Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas Culinary Journey to Southwest Florida

A Christmas Culinary Journey to Southwest Florida's Gulf Coast
December 20 - 31, 2013

Scrumpdillyicious will be touring South Florida's Gulf Coast this Christmas, on a culinary and cultural journey from Longboat Key, Anna Maria Island, Sarasota and Naples, up to St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs, capturing all of the seasonal festivities in this little corner of paradise, renowned for it's sugar-sand beaches, fabulous cuisine, stunning Spanish style architecture and thriving arts scene. 

Join me online each day for a Christmas Culinary & Cultural Journey that will take us from beautiful Longboat Key and St Armand's Circle to John and Mable Ringling's Circus Museum and Sarasota waterfront palazzo, Ca' d'Zan. We then journey up to St Petersburg, home to the renowned Dali Museum and over to Tarpon Springs, the sponge capital of the world, is also known for its Greek fare and serene beaches. Then south to Venice and Naples, as we explore the diverse culinary influences and regional ingredients of South Florida cuisine. So grab your appetite as we head south for ten days Christmas culinary and cultural snooping!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holt Renfrew Café: Sleek Euro-Style Fare

Holt Renfrew is known for its great high-end shopping. If you want to grab the latest shades from Gucci, the hottest Prada clutch, or the most notable designer jeans, there's no better place to go. But tucked away on the second floor behind all the Manolos and Jimmy Choos, and overlooking Bloor Street, is the chic and modern Holts Café, a warm and inviting place to enjoy a leisurely lunch before engaging in more 'retail therapy'. While enjoying the ambiance of their beautifully designed long loungey room, filled with art and light, you can enjoy the small but exquisite menu by Holt's new chef de cuisine Matt Hickey. One of my favourites is the Brunch Tartine with its layers of sautéed mushrooms, perfectly poached eggs, oven-roasted tomatoes and Kristapsons’ smoked salmon, nestled on top of the famed Poilâne bread, flown in from Paris three times a week, dense with a butter-kissed crust that has a hearty, smoky flavour. Crowned with a tumble of delicate mâche and served with a little tray of spices — Himalayan sea salt, Italian herbs and cracked pepper — this tartine is worth a walk up Bay Street.

The entrance to Holt's Café on the top floor of the Bloor Street location

The interior atrium of the café was decked out with Christmas cheer...

...with even a reindeer or two, festooned with bling

The stunning 50'-long abstract landscape called Far Shore, by Toronto artist Michael Adamson

Holt's Café lunch menu

Fresh Squeezed Lemonade

Sliced lemons and limes for the Lemonade and Sparkling Water

Parsnip and Garlic Soup with Walnuts, Gorgonzola and rosemary oil

Burrata Cheese with aged balsamic, arugula pesto and vine-ripe cherry tomatoes
served with grilled crusty bread

Sweet Potato Fries with chipotle aïoli and house made ketchup

Coffee & Ancho Braised Beef Short Ribs with charred corn risotto and crispy leeks

'Brunch Tartine' with poached eggs, smoked salmon, mushrooms and oven roasted tomatoes 

Seared Sea Bass with fregola — an Isreali couscous from Sardinia — butternut squash and pine nuts

Holt's Grilled Cheese
Serves 1
Recipe courtesy Chef Lucas Castle of Holt's Café, Toronto

1 piece of olive focaccia bread, 5" x 5" x 2" 
1 tsp roasted garlic purée
2 thin slices, 1 oz each of Canadian smoked mozzarella
4 slices yellow tomato, 1 1/2" diameter 
3 large whole basil leaves
2 oz shaved Parma prosciutto
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Slice focaccia bread in half and spread pureed roasted garlic onto both sides. Place one slice mozzarella onto bottom side of focaccia bread. Layer tomato slices, basil leaves and prosciutto onto cheese. Lightly season filling with cracked black pepper and top with last slice of mozzarella. Place top of bread onto sandwich. Preheat a panini grill to medium-high heat. Place filled sandwich onto preheated grill, top it with olive oil and grill until crispy and cheese begins to melt, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mini Chocolate & Cherry Black Forest Trifles

Inspired by the same decadent ingredients as a Black Forest Gateau, namely several layers of chocolate genoise, Kirsch flavored Morello cherries, whipped cream and chocolate shavings, I made these mini Chocolate & Cherry Black Forest Trifles based on Nigella's Black Cherry Trifle which I served at a large family dinner last year and fell in love with how beautiful, delicious and straight forward the dessert was. This year I made these glorious 'mini-puds' for a small pre-Christmas dinner with friends, and was given a thumping endorsement by all. Nigella suggests cheating and buying some chocolate cake and then tweaking it to make it your own. "I'm all for making life easier, and what makes my life easier when I have a crowd coming for supper, is to buy something and then make it even better. Once liquor and fruits are added, no one will tell the difference!" So taking a culinary cue from Nigella, I bought a loaf of good quality chocolate cake, a tin of M'Lord pitted bing cherries and a bottle of cherry brandy for the cakey bit of the trifle recipe. Although Nigella likes to make her own custard, I grew up with Bird's instant crème anglaise, and think it's great, so I cheated on this part of her recipe too! Finished with a big dollop of thick whipped cream and grated chocolate — this is truly heaven in a bowl. 

Mini Chocolate & Cherry Black Forest Trifles
Serves 6 to 8

1 12 oz chocolate pound cake, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 cups Cherry Brandy
1 can Bing cherries, in syrup
1 cup whipping cream
1 oz Bittersweet Chocolate grated

1 1/3 cups whole milk plus 1 tbsp
1 1/3 cups heavy cream plus 1 tbsp
8 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar plus 1 tbsp 

Place about 6-8 pieces of chocolate cake pieces in the bottom of each serving glass, squishing the cake down a bit, then pour a few glugs of cherry brandy overtop so the cake soaks most of it up — remember trifle should be boozy! 

In a saucepan warm the milk and cream until quite hot but not bubbling. Meanwhile beat the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl until well blended but not foamy, then gradually pour the hot milk and cream onto the sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Wipe out the saucepan and pour the mixture back into it. Heat gently over medium heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens. Once it's ready, pour over the chocolate cake layer in the trifle glasses. 

Meanwhile, drain the cherries, saving the liquid and reserving the cherries separately. Divide the cherries among each of the trifle glasses and top with a tablespoon of the reserved syrup and another dash of cheery brandy. When ready to decorate, whip the cream in a standing mixer until fluffy with stiff peaks, then crown the tops of each trifle with a spoonful of the whipped cream and grate some good quality chocolate over top, and serve. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shōtō at Momofuku: The Culinary Crown Jewel

Acclaimed by many to be the best restaurant in Toronto, Shōtō is private culinary theatre at its best. Sharing the third floor with Daishō on the third floor of the lofty Momofuku complex, Shōtō's gleaming black granite bar with just 22 prized seats encircles an open central kitchen, where diners are treated to Toronto's ultimate tasting menu of artfully conceived dishes with elegant ingredients and sublime flavours. Centre-stage are chef de cuisine Mitchell Bates, sous chef Peter Jensen who personally serve their small audience a $150 10-course tasting menu Tuesday to Saturday, as well as a new $95 multi-course dinner comprised of 5-6 courses including both individually plated and sharing dishes. Sommelier and master of ceremonies is the cheerful and chatty Chris Wickens, who guides diners through the wine pairings and along with the chefs, explains each and every dish. Warm, relaxed and extraordinarily delicious, Shōtō is indeed the culinary jewel in Momofuku's ample crown. Absolutely superb.

A wine or champagne cork provides a whimsical rest for the chopsticks, but also let's the chefs know which tasting menu each diner has selected: the 10 or 5-course gastronomic adventure

First to arrive was a crisp, buttery and moist Manitoba Roll, hot out of the oven

A 'Bijou' Cocktail with Gin, Aperol and Champagne

Champagne and Charteuse

A New Brunswick Beausoleil oyster with jolt of hot sauce

Lightly charred Sticky Rice with smokey XO sauce on top

The first "wine" pairing was a local artisanal Toronto Cider

Light and sparking, the cider is crafted from 100% fresh pressed juice from Ontario Heritage apples

Rich and velvety Corn and Coconut Soup with Chicken

The next pairing was a 2012 Breggo Vineyard Pinot Gris from Anderson Valley, Califormia

Anderson Valley Pinot Gris are rich with notes of grapefruit, Bartlett Pear, Freesia and melon

Arctic Char Sashimi with Smoked Roe and Creme Fraiche

A Spanish Novellum Crianza Tempranillo was paired with the pasta dish

A full bodied wine with ripe fruit, plenty of structure and perfect with meat and vintage cheese dishes, which was exactly what the next course was 

Hand rolled pasta with chef smoked turkey sausage and shaved white truffle

2012 Chateau Maris Minervois from Languedoc Roussillon, France

A superb wine with a velvety elegance and peppery finish, just lovely with the Beef Cheek

Beef Cheek cooked sous-vide for 36 hours and glazed with braised reduction, served with brussels sprout leaves and sour cream

Graham Cracker & Chocolate Steamed Cake with Mango Sorbet

The fifth and final pairing was a Tawse Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine

Sweet and full flavoured, the ice wine had hints of strawberry and cherry accents

Aebleskiver "Dutch Donuts" with Spiced Apple, Granola and Oat Sorbet

Soft-Cooked Eggs with Onion Soubise, Caviar & Potato Chips
Serves 8 as appetizer
Recipe courtesy Momofuku

Onion Soubise:
12 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp coarse kosher salt

Smoked Eggs:
8 large eggs
3 cups water
1/8 tsp liquid smoke

Chips and Salad:
4 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
Grapeseed oil, for frying
Coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup mixed herb leaves, such as chervil, tarragon, parsley & chives
2 oz black Caviar, domestic or imported 
1 tbsp Smoked Maldon sea salt
4 tsp Sherry wine vinegar

For the Onion Soubise: Place all ingredients for the onion soubise in small saucepan. Simmer uncovered over the lowest possible heat until the onions are very tender, and the butter and water are reduced to silky sauce, stirring often, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. This can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover, and chill. Rewarm before serving.

For the Smoked Eggs: Bring large saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Add the eggs to the water gently to prevent cracking and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the eggs to large bowl of ice water, and when cool enough to handle, crack the eggs gently all over on flat surface. Return to ice water and peel carefully. Do not break eggs — yolks will be runny. Mix 3 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon of liquid smoke in large saucepan. Add the peeled eggs to water, cover and chill overnight.

For the Chips & Salad: Using a mandoline, thinly slice the potatoes crosswise and rinse in small bowl of water. Drain and rinse again until the water runs clear. Drain well, then place on kitchen towel and pat dry. Pour enough oil into large deep saucepan to measure depth of 1-inch. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to side of pan and heat the oil to 360°F. Working in 3 batches, fry the potatoes until they're beginning to brown and crisp, stirring frequently to prevent the slices from sticking together, about 1 minute per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Allow to cool then transfer to clean paper towels.

Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer eggs to a medium bowl. Bring the smoked water to gentle simmer over medium heat. Carefully slide the eggs from the bowl into the water, and cook until heated through, about 4 minutes. Rewarm the onion soubise, and mix the herbs together in a small bowl.

To plate this dish, spoon 2 generous tablespoons of soubise onto each plate, using the back of a spoon to create small indentation for the egg. Divide the potato chips among each of the plates in a small mound alongside the soubise. Spoon a small pile of herb salad alongside the chips and soubise. Place 1 egg on top of the soubise on each plate. Using a small sharp knife, cut a 1-inch-long slit in each egg so the yolk spills out, and spoon a small dollop of caviar inside the opening, dividing equally. Sprinkle the eggs with a small pinch smoked salt, and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon of the Sherry wine vinegar alongside the soubise on each plate. Serve and enjoy!

Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Mint
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy Momofuku

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup Rice Krispies or other puffed rice cereal
1/4 tsp togarashi 
Kosher salt
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 small red chile, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbsp chopped mint
4 cups roasted or boiled brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise

In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the Rice Krispies and togarashi and cook over high heat, stirring, until browned, about 30 seconds. Season with salt. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the pan. 

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, water, sugar, rice vinegar, lime juice, garlic and chile and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cilantro and mint. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the frying pan and heat until nearly smoking. Add the brussels sprouts, and cook over high heat, stirring, until charred in spots and heated through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Just before serving, sprinkle the Rice Krispies on top and serve right away.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean's Reuben Spirals: Memories of a Legend

Many of my favourite recipes have been inspired by others, and sometimes, shamelessly lifted in their entirety — but I do believe in giving credit where credit's due. Jean White made the best appetizers. That's a bold statement of fact. Living into her 90's, she had a few years to get it right. Her Reuben Spirals are hands down, my absolute favourite appetizer in the world. Served warm out of the oven, they smell outrageously delicious and taste even better. As the name suggests, they borrow some of the same ingredients as a Reuben Sandwich: corned beef and swiss cheese. Being an efficient lady, Jean's recipe can be made ahead of time, frozen until needed, then thawed, sliced and baked when you'd like. Wonderful. So was she. 

1 sheet of puff pastry rolled to about 10"x12" and brushed with Dijon mustard

Grated Swiss cheese is scattered over the puff pastry

Thinly sliced corned beef is layered over the pastry, 
then the whole thing is cut in half to produce about 2 6"x5" rectangles

Roll up one rectangle from the short end, jelly roll fashion into a log shape 

Once tightly rolled, seal the seam with water

Reuben Spiral rolls can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for delicious easy appetizers over the holiday season

Jean's Reuben Spirals
Makes 10-12 spirals per roll

1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 cup dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups shredded swiss cheese
16 thinly sliced deli corned beef
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp caraway seeds, as garnish

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry to a 12"x10" rectangle. Spread 1/2 cup of dijon mustard over the pastry and top with shredded swiss cheese, then top with whole slices of corned beef. Cut the puff pastry crosswise in half, making 2 rectangles. Roll up one rectangle from the short end, jelly roll fashion into a log shape and seal seam with water. Repeat with the other rectangle. 

Freeze by wrapping each roll in cling film, but thaw at room temperature 30 minutes before using. Cut each roll into 1/4-inch slices placed cut side up on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caraway seeds. Bake at 400° for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Jean likes them served with a martini! Each roll makes about 10-12 spirals.