Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sunday Brunch at the Ritz: Mimosas & Lobster

Sunday Brunch at the Ritz was one of my family's treasured dining traditions when we all gathered for Christmas on Longboat Key — that was until the hotel was renovated in 2015 and sadly cancelled the popular Sunday morning tradition. Imagine our delight when we heard that the Ritz Toronto had launched their own Sunday Brunch in the hotel's signature restaurant TOCA. One of the most extravagant in the city, Sunday Brunch at The Ritz is pricey, but for special occasions, it's well worth it! Guests can explore a wonderland of lobster tails, chilled poached shrimp, mussels, sushi, a live carving station, omelette station, charcuterie and more, plus enjoy never ending glasses of Mimosas or Bloody Caesars. And if that wasn't enough, there's often a chocolate fountain, crêperie, and French pastries for dessert. Not to be outdone, the Ritz also holds a Veuve Clicquot Sunday Brunch on the last Sunday of every month at $145 per person, which includes all of the Veuve Cliquot you can quaff. When 'extravagant' is on your culinary wish list, the Ritz brunch is hard to beat. 

Main lobby of the Ritz with suspended glass bridge to Toca

Champagne and fresh squeezed orange juice Mimosas

Vine Ripe Tomato, arugula, basil red onion and burrata salad

Roasted Caulifower & Truffle Panna Cotta with Pine Nuts

Tomato Arancini with Basil Pesto and Mozzarella di Buffalo with Marinara Sauce

Hand sliced Niagara Prosciutto and Soppressata

Wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano

Salmon Crudo with lemon vinaigrette 

Canadian Lobster Tails, Poached Shrimp, Marinated P.E.I Mussels, Snow Crab Legs 
and Freshly Shucked Canadian Oysters

Lobster tails, poached shrimp and grilled asparagus with tomato burrata salad and roasted cauliflower and truffle panna cotta cup

Cheesecake with fresh berries

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Traditional Tiramisu

Pecan and Dulce de Leche Chocolate Tart

Frothy Cappuccino

Banana Bread French Toast
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of sous chef Jilin Gaba, Toca

8 slices of banana bread (make ahead - see below)
2 cups 35% cream
10 large eggs
½ cup Xyla® xylitol, or white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted

Banana Bread (Makes 2 loaves):
3 1/4 cups bananas, mashed
2 2/3 cups Xyla® xylitol natural sweetener, or white sugar
5 extra large eggs
1 1/3 cups 35% cream
1 1/3 cup canola oil
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix bananas and Xyla® xylitol or sugar in mixer using paddle attachment until bananas are completely mashed. Add flour and baking soda, and mix until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the oil, cream and vanilla extract in a steady stream until fully emulsified. Add the eggs and scrape bowl down. Divide the mixture into 2 loaf pans. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F, then reduce temperature to 330°F for 50 minutes. When done, remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Whisk together the cream, eggs, Xyla® xylitol (or sugar) and cinnamon to form the mixture. Place the butter in a sauté pan on medium heat until frothy. Soak the banana bread in the eggy mixture for 1 minute, then place in the pan, flipping once until golden brown. Finish in oven for 4-5 minutes until cooked through. To serve, dust with a little confectioners sugar and garnish with fresh berries. A drizzle of pure Canadian maple syrup would be even better. 

The Ritz-Carlton Toronto Mojito 
Serves 1
Recipe courtesy of Head Bartender, Courtney Messam, Ritz Toronto

1 oz rum
1 oz syrup
6-8 mint leaves
1/2 lime, cut in wedges
3-4 oz good quality club soda, such as Fever Tree

Add the syrup, rum, mint and lime to a tall glass, and muddle. Fill with crushed ice and top of with club soda. Garnish with a bouquet of fresh mint, a wedge of lime and a stack of fresh sugar cane.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Steamed Tilapia with Ginger-Soy Sauce & Herbs

Enjoying a predominantly pescatorian diet, finding a new fish to prepare is a real treat, such as these whole Jamaican Tilapia that I found at Diana's Seafood. Diana's has a vast selection of fresh fish from all over the world, both whole and hand cut filets, but I'd never seen whole Jamaican Tilapia before — neither had my lovely lady fishmonger who regularly serves me at Diana's. When she's impressed, I'm impressed.

Steamed Whole Jamaican Tilapia with Ginger-Soy Sauce
Serves 2

2 whole Jamaican Tilapia, scaled and cleaned
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 handful of fresh dill
1 lemon, sliced
1 handful fresh mint
1 handful fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 scallions, sliced on the diagonal
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp ponzu
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and liberally spread with vegetable oil to prevent the tilapia from sticking while steaming. Lay the tilapia on the foil, turn over in the vegetable oil to coat both sides, then lay to rest side by side on the foil lined tray. Stuff the tilapia with the dill, mint, cilantro, sliced ginger and 4 lemon slices.

In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, ponzu, sesame oil, rice vinegar then green onion, and pour over the tilapia. Cover the entire tray of tilapia with aluminum foil, so that it overhangs the edges. Seal the tray by crimping the foil around the tray and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the tilapia is cooked through. 

Using 2 large spatulas, remove each whole tilapia and place on pre-warmeddinner plates. Garnish with the remaining lemon slices and top with a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately with a bone bowl on the side. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Guy's Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

One of the most popular and well known salads in the world, the ingredients and preparation of a Caesar Salad is very simple: romaine lettuce and homemade croutons dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, egg, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper. The salad's creation is generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. Cardini was living in San Diego but was also working in Tijuana at the time, which was a popular tourist destination that attracted Americans frustrated by Prohibition. His daughter Rosa recounted that her father invented the salad at his restaurant Caesar's at the Hotel Cesar, when a Fourth of July rush in 1924 depleted the kitchen's supplies, so Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing "by the chef." Cardini's daughter also said that the original recipe included whole lettuce leaves, which were meant to be lifted by the stem and eaten with the fingers. Although the original recipe didn't contain anchovies, modern recipes typically include them as a key ingredient. This delicious Caesar Salad recipe created by my husband doesn't use Worcestershire sauce, and is absolutely fabulous. He also chills the salad plates and forks for the full 5-star luxe treatment.

Caesar Cardini photo courtesy of San Diego History Centre

Original advertisement for Caesar's in Tijuana in 1924

Guy's Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Serves 2

1 head Romain hearts, washed and dried
3 slices of bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved

3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 anchovy filets, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Fresh ground pepper, to taste 

Whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Add the vegetable oil to a small frying pan over medium-high, and once shimmering, add the bread and sauté until golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes, then set aside on some paper towel to drain. Tear the romaine hearts into bite size pieces and place in a large salad bowl. Pour the salad dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Scatter the croutons overtop then garnish generously with shaved parmiginao to taste. Serve on chilled plates with chilled forks for a 5-star presentation.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Nami Omakase: A Valentines Day Sushi Treat

For over thirty years, Nami has been a quiet escape in the heart of downtown Toronto, for the finest sushi, sashimi, made-to-order grilled meat, fish and succulent seafood at Nami's Robata Grill. Considered to be one of the city's finest authentic Japanese restaurants, Nami is a hidden gem. My favourite sushi restaurant for many years, Kimono-clad servers tend to guests in the main dining area, as well as within private rice paper screened Tatami rooms which can be reserved for groups of eight people or more — a real treat. Peter oversees the Robata Grill and expertly prepares the most sublime grilled fish, seafood and succulent steamed mixed mushrooms bathed with butter, soy sauce and sake marinade. With an assortment of fish, many of which is brought in from Japan, it’s no surprise that 'nami' means 'wave' in Japanese. Each Valentine's Day, Nami creates a unique Omakase menu of refined sashimi and sushi flown in from from Japan for those lucky enough to get a reservation. 

Special Valentines Omakase Menu

Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura

Warm edamame

Nami Valentines Omakase Sushi: Toro, Hamachi, Aburi Ocean Trout, Ebi, Unagi, Hirami, Hotate, 
Fanny Bay Oyster from BC and seared Wagyu Beef

Fanny Bay oyster from BC with ikura and sliced scallions

Hirame: Fluke with oba leaf, ume sour plum paste topped with pure gold flakes

Grazie Ristorante in Vaughan: Casual Italian Cuisine

Grazie Ristorante subscribes to the three Rs that make Italian food truly great: rustic, robust and reasonably priced. Inside it's simple and friendly. With the original location booming in the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood for over 20 years, Grazie expanded to its newest location in the heart of Vaughan about five years ago. Created in the mid 1990s by Chef Joe Brancatella and former partner Louie Granicolo, Grazie's recipe for success has been consistency: the servers are always friendly and attentive, the ambiance warm and inviting and the food simple and reliable with an extensive menu and wine list that features a wide selection of antipasti, zuppa, pizza, pasta, secondi and of course dolce. For rustic Italian-inspired fare, Grazie has something for everyone.

Fresh squishy baguette

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Mixed olives

I Muri Primativo from Puglia

Minestra: Traditional Italian soup served with hearty greens and beans

Fresca Focaccia: Fior di latte mozzarella, plum tomatoes and oregano

St Vito Pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, roasted peppers, sopressata and green olives

Alessandra Pasta: Strozzapreti with rapini, spicy fennel sausage and tomato

Bologna Pasta: Rigatoni in a hearty meat sauce

Grazie Ristorante Quattro Stagioni Fusilli
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Chef Joe Brancatella, Grazie Ristorante

3/4 lb fusilli pasta boiling water with salt
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 sweet red or green pepper, seeded, chopped
2 small zucchini, diagonally sliced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups sliced bite-size broccoli florets
1 cup diced drained, canned plum tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup 35% whipping cream
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
freshly grated Asiago or parmesan cheese

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook fusilli just until tender. Drain but do not rinse. Meanwhile, heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sweet red pepper, cook until onion is soft. Increase heat to medium-high, add zucchini and cook 1 minute. Add mushrooms and broccoli, cook 2 minutes or until broccoli is a bright color. Stir to keep vegetables from sticking. Add tomatoes and cook 30 seconds. Add chicken stock, whipping cream, hot pepper flakes and a generous pinch of nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, cook 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add drained pasta and toss with sauce. Serve right away on warm plate garnished with grated cheese. If pasta is held for any time, you may need to add more chicken stock. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Charles Kirby's Jalapeño Cheese Cornbread Muffins

My dear friend Charles Kirby, one of the finest character artists of the National Ballet of Canada, is equally famous in my mind for his fabulous Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread. Born in the southern US, his flair for southern cookin' comes honestly. So does his flair for entertaining. One memorable dinner party he held while he was living in Toronto, featured his fried chicken and Jalapeño Cornbread, preceded by his signature cocktail for the evening — A Pink Elephant — a heady concoction of frozen pink lemonade and rum. I got the cornbread recipe from Charles the next day, and have been making it ever since. It's sweet and moist on the inside, a little crispy on the outside, and the jalapenos pack a little punch. 

Charles Kirby's Jalapeño Cheese Cornbread Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup creamed corn
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 cup canned jalapeno peppers, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put shortening in a muffin pan and place in the oven until melted. Stir the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir the wet ingredients together in another bowl, except the jalapenos. Combine the wet and dry ingredients together, adding the jalapenos at the end. Pour the combined mixture into the heated muffin pan, and bake 30-40 minutes, until puffed and golden. This recipe is outrageously good and completely addictive. Cheers Charles!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Thai Peanut Coconut Cauliflower Chickpea Curry

This vibrant Thai peanut coconut cauliflower chickpea curry is bursting with luscious flavours for a healthy plant-based protein packed vegetarian meal. A colourful medley of fresh cauliflower, sliced red pepper, carrots, green peas, scallions, aromatic garlic and ginger, rich coconut milk, thick peanut butter, nutrition-rich chickpeas, fragrant cilantro and zingy Thai red curry paste combine to create an easy and delicious curry that is perfect served with fluffy rice.

Thai Peanut Coconut Cauliflower Chickpea Curry
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Ambitious Kitchen

For the curry:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 small head cauliflower, broken into florets, about 3-4 cups
1 bunch green onions, diced, saving one for garnish
15 oz can coconut milk
1/3 cup water 
4 tbsp Thai red curry paste
2 tbsp creamy peanut butter
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
1/2 tsp kosher salt, to taste
1 red pepper, julienned
15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen peas

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 green onion, finely sliced on a diagonal
1/2 cup chopped peanuts or cashews, if desired

Place a large pot or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the oil, garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, then add the cauliflower florets. Sauté for minutes then add the carrots and green onions and continue cooking for another 3-4 minute until the cauliflower begins to turn a slight golden brown and the onions soften.

Next, add the coconut milk, water, curry paste, peanut butter, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and salt, and stir well to combine. Then stir in the bell pepper, and chickpeas, and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. The curry can also be reduced to low to extend the cooking time and allow the rice to cook and warm the naan.

Taste, and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Before serving, stir in the frozen peas and simmer an additional minute or two. To serve, spoon the curry into warm bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro, green onion and chopped peanuts or cashews, if desired. Delicious served with rice or quinoa for a full protein packed plant based meal, along with some papadam or warm naan bread.