Monday, September 22, 2014

Golabki: Polish Cabbage Rolls with Beef, Pork & Veal

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are the epitome of comfort food. Pork, beef and veal are mixed with rice or barley, wrapped in lightly blanched cabbage leaves then cooked in a rich tomato sauce until tender. Most Eastern European cuisines have their own version of a cabbage roll. For Czechs and Slovaks, it's holubky, while Serbs and Croatians refer to them as sarma. The Polish call them gołąbki, pronounced "gaw-womp-kee", which literally means 'little pigeons.' Although no pigeon is used in the recipe, the name could possibly be due to it's resemblance to the shape of pigeon breast. Legend has it that a Polish King fed his army with golabki before a key battle in 1465 and their victory was credited to this hearty meal beforehand which was said to have 'given the soldiers wings.' A labour of love, these little parcels are delicious in any language, and can be easily frozen for a soul satisfying feast on a chilly autumn day.

Blanching the savoy cabbage leaves in salted boiling water

Onions, garlic, thyme, paprika and cayenne pepper are sautéed over medium-high until the onions are golden, about 10-15 minutes

Long grain rice is then added to the mixture — I used a combination of long grain and wild rice

The rice is cooked for one minute with the onions

Beef broth is added to the saucepan, covered and allowed to simmer for 30 minutes

After 1/2 an hour, the rice has absorbed all the liquid

Ground veal, pork, beef are combined in a big bowl with an egg and fresh parsley, dill and tarragon

The meat mixture is combined well...

...then added to the rice and onions and mixed well

A spoonful of the stuffing is laid on top of each blanched cabbage leaf and rolled up into little parcels

A spoonful of tomato sauce is ladled in the casserole to prevent the cabbage rolls from sticking

Then each of the cabbage rolls are nestled together

More tomato sauce is generously spooned on top to completely cover the cabbage rolls

Baked at 350°F for an hour, the cabbage rolls are cooked through and wonderfully aromatic

Cabbage Rolls
Makes 18-24

1 head of savoy cabbage, cored
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp caraway seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste

2 tbsp butter
3 onions, chopped into fine 1/8-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/2 cup long-grain rice
1 1/4 cups beef stock
1 1/2 lb each lean ground pork, beef and veal
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper

sprigs of fresh thyme
fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, if desired

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Gently remove each leaf from the savoy cabbage and place in the boiling water until tender, about 3-4 minutes per leaf, then drain on a tea towel. Cut out and discard any coarse veins then set the leaves aside. 

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, caraway seeds, salt and pepper and sauté for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are golden. Add the sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered until reduced, about 30 minutes.

For the filling, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, thyme, paprika and cayenne pepper, and cook stirring often until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the rice, and cook, stirring for 1 minute, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Transfer to large bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the ground meats, parsley, dill, egg, salt and pepper, mixing well to combine.

Spread 1 cup of the tomato mixture in a large oven proof casserole. To make the cabbage rolls, spoon 1/4 cup of the filling onto the centre of each cabbage leaf, fold sides over filling, and then roll up. Transfer the rolls, seam side down to the bottom of a 9"x13" casserole or glass baking dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the rolls and bake at 350°F until the filling is tender and cooked through, about 45-60 minutes.

NOTE: The Cabbage Rolls can be made ahead: 
Refrigerate: Bake rolls and let cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Reheat, covered, in 350°F oven for about 1 hour.
Freeze: Bake rolls and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap and overwrap with foil; freeze for up to 2 weeks. Thaw in refrigerator for 48 hours. Reheat, covered, in 350°F oven for 1 hour.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cam's Clam Chowder: A Spring Creek Classic

Located in the quiet southern Ontario community of Claremont in north Pickering, Spring Creek Golf Club is a charming 9-hole executive golf course set amid a lush landscape of lovely mature trees, rolling greens and challenging water features, attractively landscaped with indigenous Southern Ontario wildflowers, grasses and cultivated shrubs. With four par 4's and five par 3's Spring Creek is a course designed for novice and intermediate golfers, which is ideally suited to my calibre of play, having just started playing last year. One of the highlights of our weekly golf game is meeting an hour or so before tee-off to have lunch in Spring Creek's flagstone clad clubhouse and chat about the week's past events. 

Spring Creek's oversized chalkboard in the dining room with highlights of the daily menu

Chef Cam's thick and creamy Clam Chowder

The healthy and delicious Toasted Tuna Sandwich

The menu, which is highlighted on an oversized chalkboard in the main dining room, features a tempting selection of delicious deli-style sandwiches ranging from Smoked Pastrami on Rye, Toasted Westerns and Tuna Salad to foot-long Whistledogs topped with melted cheese and crispy bacon served with optional sides of fresh cut French Fries or heaping baskets of golden brown Onion Rings. Each day, Chef Cam also features one of his daily specials, with none more popular than his famous Clam Chowder. Thick and creamy, Chef Cam's chowder is full to brimming with whole baby clams, finely chopped locally grown vegetables and hot morsels of diced potato. Fortified with a soul satisfying homemade lunch and with the promise of a beautiful afternoon on Spring Creek's picturesque course, all seems right with the world. Unless we happen to play abysmally, in which case we head back to the clubhouse where Cathy always has a big smile, offers encouraging words and has a cold beer waiting for us. Again, all seems right with the world, and we optimistically sign up for next week's tee time.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Crêpes à GoGo: Yorkville's French Connection

Tucked away on the corner of Yorkville Ave and Yonge St, Crêpes à GoGo is a cozy Parisian-inspired boîte, where francophone crêpières prepare sweet and savoury Bretonne-style crêpes to a dedicated cult following six days a week, and there's a line up all the time! Two crêpe stations are in constant use, and all the crêpes are made to order — however the service is fast, the staff are even nicer so it's definitely worth the wait. Tres delicieux et vraiment Parisian, Crêpes à GoGo is the loving creation of effervescent and enigmatic Véronique Perez, or "GoGo" as she is affectionately nicknamed. Born on Île de la Réunion off the coast of Madagascar and raised predominantly in Paris, Véronique became a master crêpe chef purely by accident when her brother found a beautiful crêpe maker and brought it with him to Canada. When she couldn’t sell it, GoGo decided to put it to use and set up a crêpe stand at Toronto's Harbourfront. It was a roaring success. When a closet-size space on Bedford Ave came on the market shortly thereafter, she grabbed the opportunity and opened Crêpes à GoGo. Forced to move 5 years later when the building was being demolished, Véronique quickly found a new home at 18 Yorkville. "In Hebrew 18 is 'chai', which is 'life," and she said, "That’s for me!" 

The well worn and retro Crêpes à GoGo menu featuring Chef Véronique on the cover

With a tempting selection of over 30 sweet or savoury crêpes to choose from, there's something for everyone. The Parisienne with scrambled egg, swiss cheese, mushrooms, red onion and dill is a popular favourite, as well as the TomTom with scrambled egg, smoked salmon, tomato, sour cream and dill, and Crêpe Mademoiselle with goat cheese, red onion, smoked salmon and maple syrup. For dessert, many are hopelessly addicted to Véronique's signature Crêpe Tartinade made with her homemade Nutella-style sweetened hazelnut chocolate spread with thick slices of banana. Most the crêpes are presented in a distinctive square Bretonne-style fold within a small paper bag, whereupon the server tears down the paper bag's edges, looks you in the eye, and says, "Bon appétit." 

A small cup of Limonana is served to each guest, a refreshing mix of lemon juice, mint leaves and organic cane juice in a filtered water base

Caffeine-free, low sugar and low calorie, Limonana was created by Chef Véronique 
and is marketed across Toronto 

The charming francophone crêpière making our crêpe Parisien 

Le Parisien Crêpe with with scrambled egg, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, red onion and fresh dill 

The 'Tartinade' Crêpe made with Chef Veronique's signature nutella-style spread, 
and garnished with fresh banana

Crêpes Mademoiselle
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Véronique Perez, owner of Crêpes à GoGo

3 large eggs
1-1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/3 cup barley flour, sifted 
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing pan
7 oz each of crumbled goat cheese and thinly sliced smoked salmon
1/4 cup each of thinly sliced red onion and pure maple syrup

In small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. In large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, barley flour, sugar and salt, then slowly whisk the egg mixture into the dry mix until combined. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the oil, and if the batter is lumpy, pass through a sieve. Cover and rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

Heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high. Dip a ball of paper towel into the oil and rub into the pan. When hot, ladle 1/3 cup batter into the centre of the pan and quickly tilt and swirl pan to form an even layer. Cook until the top is no longer wet and edges are papery, about 60 seconds. Carefully flip the crêpe and continue to cook it until browned, another 30 seconds. Repeat until the batter is finished, stacking the crêpes on a large plate.

To make the Crêpes Mademoiselle, lay out 4 crêpes, wrapping and refrigerating the remaining crêpes for another use. Divide the goat cheese, salmon and onion into 4 equal portions. Working left to right, sprinkle the goat cheese to form a 2-inch band along the diameter of each crêpe. Top with smoked salmon and onion, and drizzle 1 tbsp of maple syrup over the filling of each crêpe.

To serve, fold the bottom of of the crêpe over the filling, bringing it 1-inch short of top to form slightly irregular half moon. Working from bottom, roll the filling over itself, and cut in half. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taverna Pazzo: Stratford's Calabrian Connection

Stratford has come a long way in the culinary world from its humble beginnings when the theatre festival started in 1953, housed in a giant canvas tent on the banks of the River Avon. Fuelled by talent from the Stratford Chefs School and the founders of venerable restaurants like the Old Prune, Rundles and Church, the city has firmly cemented its reputation as a major player on the culinary stage, luring dedicated theatregoers and food aficionados alike. One of the more recent star attractions on Stratford's culinary scene is Chef Yva Santini of Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria, a warm and friendly Italian brasserie perched on the corner of Ontario and Erie Street in the heart of the city. Serving some of the most innovative and authentically delicious Italian cuisine in Stratford, Chef School alumnus Yva Santini serves regional dishes, much like the rustic meals she enjoyed in her family's village of Calabria. 

Stratford Chef School alumnus Chef Yva Santini of Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria

Pazzo Taverna's bright and charming Italian farmhouse-chic interior 

Raised in an Italian-Canadian family, Chef Santini has always had a passion for cooking and an understanding of seasonality and terroir, so her menu features only local ingredients and regional produce from Stratford and Perth County for Pazzo's repertoire of delicious offerings. Sustainable seafood like oysters, crab and lobster make up the heart of Chef Santini's ever-changing menu joined with locally-sourced meat, house made tagliatelle, fettuccine, ravioli, gnocchi and hand stretched mozzarella. Inspired by her Italian heritage, the casually elegant farmhouse-chic décor of Pazzo is warm and inviting with elegant dark wood and leather seating, modern tableware, subdued lighting and playful architectural accents such as salvaged mirrors, doors and picture frames plus an enormous stuffed deer head that stands guard at the panelled entryway of the restaurant.

A stuffed stag head overlooks the dining room, and at Christmas time 
he's 'tarted up' with a red plastic nose

A quirky montage of ornate mirrors line the walls at Pazzo

The bar area at Pazzo Taverna

Pazzo's Calabria-inspired menu

Housemade bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

A glass of Italian Pinot Grigio

Nestled in one of Pazzo's spacious corner leather clad booths and fortified with a glass of wine, we embarked on a sampling of Chef Santini's late summer dinner menu, starting with the artfully presented Celery and Parsley Soup with mini bacon arancini. Garnished with nasturtium petals and drizzled with parsley oil, the soup was delicious as it was spectacular. The Warm Octopus Salad was soft and tender with lovely tangy chopped Cerignola olives, warm roasted potatoes and fresh parsley for a simple and soul satisfying antipasti. The pasta dishes were the highlight, with the Lobster, Fennel and Ricotta Stuffed Ravioli with Tarragon Cream deserving a standing ovation. Nestled in a puddle of silky smooth tarragon cream, the striped ravioli were rich and delicate punctuated with the vibrant colour and crunchy texture of tiny Tobiko flying fish roe and fresh dill. Delicious and exquisitely presented, the dish was outstanding. So was the entire evening, from start to finish. With tickets to see 'Beaux Stratagem' at the Festival Theatre later that evening, we decided not to indulge in Chef Santini's Italian-inspied dolce of Torta della Nonna, Tiramisu or Crema Brusciata della Carmella, and settled for hot and steamy espressos instead. As with every Shakespearean play however, there's always a second act, and the next time we're in Stratford we'll surely return to Pazzo Taverna for an encore performance. Bravissima.

Celery and Parsley Soup with mini bacon arancini

Crushed Sweet Pea and Burrata Crostini

Warm Octopus Salad with potato, olives and parsley in a light marinade

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Sprouts and Pine Nuts

House Made Fettucini with Church Hill Farm Pork Ragu, gremolata and Parmigiano

Lobster, Fennel and Ricotta Stuffed Ravioli with tarragon cream and topped with Tobiko and fresh dill

A single espresso

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Uncle Jim & Aunt Lillian's BBQ Pork Tenderloin

Sweet, moist and exquisitely tender, this BBQ Pork Tenderloin recipe was kindly given to me by my Uncle Jim after he made it this past summer for a big family get-together, having been inspired by his sister Lillian's favourite recipe — who coined the phrase about a great woman being behind every man! Marinated in a fragrant mixture of crushed garlic, grated ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, and olive oil, the tenderloins and marinade are simply poured into a large resealable plastic bag and chilled for up to 3 days. As the tenderloins marinate, they absorb the flavours of the sauce and also tenderize the meat. Grilled over medium-high for 15-20 minutes until the tenderloins have formed a dark sweet crust and light pink centre, the pork should be allowed to rest a few minutes before carving into luscious 1/2-inch thick slices. Served with grilled asparagus, a light green salad and easy potato salad, this is a fabulous recipe for simple summer dining. 

Uncle Jim & Aunt Lillian's BBQ Pork Tenderloin
Serves 8-10

2 cups soy sauce
1 cup olive oil  
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed 
2 tsp grated fresh ginger 
2 tsp brown sugar  
6 pork tenderloins

Place the whole pork tenderloins in large resealable plastic bags. Whisk together the soy sauce, olive oil, brown sugar, grated ginger and crushed garlic in medium bowl, and pour over the pork tenderloins. Seal the bags, removing as much air as possible, and refrigerate for up to 3 days, rotating the bag a couple of times to redistribute the marinade.

An hour or so before cooking, remove the tenderloin from the bag, discard the marinade, and allow the pork to rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes while preheating the grill to medium-high. 

Barbecue with the lid down for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally until well browned on all sidesand the tenderloins have a dark sweet crust and light pink centre. Allow the meat to rest 5 minutes before removing to a cutting board and slicing into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick pieces. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie in the Distillery

Once home to the largest distillery in the British Empire, Toronto's restored Distillery District is home to North America's best-preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture, providing a stunning backdrop for a collection of local cafés, art galleries and restaurants, including one of the district's newer additions, Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie. 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. 

Cluny Bistro dinner menu

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 Salt Cod Donuts with Smoked Potato Dipping Sauce, Quebec-Style Potted Pork Paté, Roasted Duck Poutine, Crisp Erie Perch 'Shore Lunch' and Qualicom Bay Scallops from B.C. There are also traditional classics which include French Onion Soup, Beef Tongue and Steak-Frites, but also fusion dishes such as Moroccan Chickpea Potato Stew, Asian-inspired Ahi Seared Drunken Tuna and Ginger-Chili Fried Frog's Legs with Vietnamese dipping sauce. For theatre-goers, Cluny is conveniently located across the cobblestone lane to Toronto's celebrated Soulpepper Theatre Company in the Distillery District's Young Centre for the Performing Arts — and with its adjacent Boulangerie, which is open until 10:00pm each evening, selling house made croissant, pain au chocolate, tarte au citron and a lovely selection of house made gelato, it's makes a sweet interlude at intermission for those craving 'quelque chose de sucré'. Mon Dieu!

The Moulin Vert made with Citadelle Gin, Curacao d’Orange, St. Germain, Muddled Kiwi and lime garnish

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

A basket of fresh baked bread from Cluny's in-house boulangerie

A glass of 2013 Italian Pinot Grigio, Forchir ‘Lamis’ from Fruili Venzia Giulia

Crisp Sesame Baked Asparagus 'Frites' served with a spicy yogurt dipping sauce

Potted Pork Creton: A Quebec-Style Pork Paté with toasted apple bread 
and a copper pot of apple and lemon balm jam

Salt Cod Donuts with Smoked Potato Dipping Sauce

Open Faced Triple Salmon Ravioli with Smoked, Poached and Roe with Sorrel and Saffron Pasta

Steak Frites with Lemon Garlic Aioli

'Drunken' Seared Ahi Tuna with red pepper pesto, pomme purée, rocket salad and sherry vinaigrette

Macchiato with macaroon

Cluny Boulangerie with assorted fresh pastries such as madeleines, macaroons, 
tarte au citron and baskets of croissants and pain au chocolate

One of the croissants we bought from the Boulangerie for breakfast the next morning!

Cluny’s Qualicom Bay Scallops
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Chef Paul Benallick, Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie

6 large 'U10' sushi-grade scallops
1 small seedless watermelon 
4 limes
1/2 Anaheim pepper
1/2 clove garlic
1 bunch coriander
1/2 piece of palm sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
4 tbsp peanuts
1/4 dried guajillo chili 

Thinly slice the scallops with a sharp knife — you should get five to six slices per scallop. Dice the watermelon into 3/4-inch cubes.

In a mortar and pestle crush the garlic, coriander stems and chili into a fine paste. Mix in the palm sugar, then thin the paste down with fish sauce and reserve.

Toast the peanuts in a pan and crush with the back of a knife. Pick 1/4 bunch of coriander leaves, wash and dry on paper towel. Bake the guajillo chili in a 275°F oven for 15 minutes. Crush in between your fingers.

To finish, divide the scallops between four plates. Spoon on equal amounts of sauce and season with salt. Add five diced watermelon, crumbled chili, the crushed peanuts and fresh coriander leaves to each plate.