Friday, July 29, 2011

Touchstone on Lake Muskoka & Chef Guy Bedard

Undoubtedly, one of the most picturesque destinations to dine in Muskoka, is Touchstone on Lake Muskoka. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the deep blue waters of Lake Muskoka, Touchstone is a handsome resort-style community of villa inspired condominiums. Touchstone features fabulous spa facilities, but mch more important - one of the best kitchens in the area, Taste Dining, under the creative leadership of Executive Chef Guy Bedard. This casually elegant restaurant, set amid the rustic beauty of magical Muskoka, Chef Bedard has created an inspired menu that embraces the regional flavours of Muskoka's contemporary culinary scene, taking full advantage of the freshest local ingredients to create dishes that are both delicious and inspired.

Executive Chef Guy Bedard - Touchstone on Lake Muskoka

The luncheon menu features dishes such as Touchstone Salad with fresh local greens, Roma tomatoes, english cucumber and pea shoots with a Bala cranberry and maple dessert wine vinaigrette; Muskoka Cottage Brewery Battered Pickerel with fresh locally caught pickerel, caper and gherkin remoulade; and a flavourful Grilled Chicken Cubhouse served on a multigrain kaiser with fresh local greens and tomato, with peameal bacon, havarti cheese and finished with a delicious roasted red pepper aioli. Dinner selections include Milford Bay Smoked Trout with Brookland farms Arugula, caramelized red onions, caper cream cheese, scallion potato crostini with a lemon chive vinaigrette; Grilled Ontario Rack of Lamb with Brooklands Farm seasonal vegetables ad fresh mint balsamic drizzle; and Rainbow Trout Tower featuring Milford Bay trout with creamy sun-dred tomato polenta topped with crisp prosciutto and sweet oats with Brooklands Farms seasonal greens and wildflower honey drizzle.

If you're in search of the quintessential Muskoka weekend, visit Katcha and Ken at Brooklands Farm for their fresh organic seasonal vegetables, farm fresh eggs and maple syrup tapped from their own maple grove; explore the Milford Bay Trout Farm for their smokey salmon trout filets, gravlax and mousse; and for the final coup de grace, finish with a memorable lunch or dinner at Touchstone. In the Autumn, there's also the Muskoka Studio Arts Tour that features the heart of Muskoka's thriving art scene. Only 2 hours from Toronto, you'll end up coming up to cottage country, time and time again. Savour Muskoka and discover a magical corner of Ontario that is a world apart from the ordinary.

Harvest Salad with Warm Apples
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Chef Guy Bedard - Touchstone/Lake Muskoka

4 cups baby lettuces, washed
2 medium sized carrots, sliced thinly
½ cup pecan pieces
½ cup smoked Cheddar, grated
1 medium beet, cooked, peeled, sliced thinly
1 Royal Gala apple, cut into wedges

Cider Vinaigrette:
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup canola oil
2 tbsp honey
Salt and pepper

In a food processor, add cider vinegar, honey and salt and pepper. Slowly add the canola oil while the processor is on for about one minute. Heat apple wedges in a frying pan with a ¼ cup of the cider vinaigrette until a little soft. Arrange lettuce in bowls. Place 4 slices of carrots and beets each on the lettuce. Pour apple slices and vinaigrette on top and garnish with the smoked cheddar and pecans.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Classic Potato Salad

Everyone has their own special recipe for Potato Salad, and those that are old family favourites from childhood are hard to beat. But this recipe that my friends Richard and Cory prepared, is a sure fire winner. Inspired by a recipe from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, this Classic Potato Salad calls for a lovely combination of white, red and purple potatoes, with a full flavoured creamy and crunchy dressing made with good quality mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, fresh dill, celery and red onion. Easy and delicious, this recipe is sure to become a new family favourite.

Classic Potato Salad
Serves 6-8

3 lbs small red, white and purple potatoes
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup medium diced celery
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
fresh ground black pepper and kosher salt

Place the potatoes and 2 tbsp salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot off the heat, and cover with a dry clean dish towel. Leave the potatoes to steam for 15-20 minutes, until tender but firm. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, Dijon and whole-grain mustards, dill, 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper, then set aside. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into quarters or halves, depending on the size. Place the cut potatoes into a large bowl and pour enough dressing over them to moisten. As the salad sits, you'll need to pour more dressing. Add the celery and red onion, 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of fresh ground pepper. Toss well, cover and chill for a few hours to allow the fllavours to meld.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Black Bean, Corn and Feta Salad

A colourful and delicious cold summer salad, this Black Bean, Corn and Feta Salad is perfect fare for an al fresco summer lunch or dinner on the deck. It's easy to make, can be made ahead of time and holds up beautifully for a long weekend up north at the cottage. Made with a handful of simple, healthy and tasty ingredients, this salad will soon become part of your summer repertoire.

Black Bean, Corn and Feta Salad
Serves 6-8

1/2 cup feta cheese
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp Dijon
2 540ml cans black beans
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
1 cup red pepper, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper go taste

In a large bowl, add the feta and break it up with a fork. Whisk in the oil, vinegar and mustard. Then add all of the other ingredients and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three Pea Salad

With the bushels of fresh peas at the farms at the moment, this Three Pea Salad is a lovely light and refreshing dish for a warm summer evening. A delightful melange of snow peas, sugar snap peas and fresh peas from the pod, they're all steamed seperately, then tossed together with some lemon zest and a light vinaigrette. The only time consuming part is shelling the fresh peas, but it's definitely worth the effort.

Three Pea Salad
Serves 6

1 cup sugar snap peas
1 cup snow peas
1 cup of fresh shelled peas
zest of one lemon
fresh mint, julienned, for garnish

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice

Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside. Lightly steam the sugar snap peas and snow peas seperately in a steamer, until they are warmed through but still firm and crunchy. Toss them in the ice water. Then lightly steam the peas until they are just cooked though, and toss them in the ice water. Once all the peas have cooled, drain them thoroughly and place in a serving bowl. Add the lemon zest, a spoonful or two of a light vinigrette and some fresh mint, and mix well. Serve chilled.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Savoury Summer Spareribs

One of the quintessential meals during the hot summer months is a heaping platter of grilled baby back ribs, smothered in a piquant BBQ sauce and cooked until they're 'fall-off-the-bone' tender. Tangy and delicious, these sticky pork spareribs are braised in an aromatic liquid for about an hour, until they're perfectly tender, then marinated in a smoky BBQ sauce for up to three days. Because they can be prepared well ahead of time, these Savoury Summer Spareribs are perfect party fare — just brown on the grill to caramelize the sauce, and you're done. And they're finger licking good!

Summer BBQ Spareribs
Serves 4

Braising liquid:

8 cups beef stock
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cayenne
1 1/2 tbsp cumin
3 tbsp Tabasco
1 3"x2" nob of fresh ginger, sliced coarsely
1 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup honey
1 tbsp salt

1 rack baby back pork ribs
1 jar good quality BBQ sauce

Combine all the braising liquid ingredients in a large pot, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cut the ribs into 4"-5" slabs and add to the pot. Simmer until tender, but not falling apart, about 60-80 minutes. 

When done, transfer the ribs to a large bowl and coat with BBQ sauce. You can make your own very easily, but I cheat and buy Diana's Chipotle BBQ Sauce. I even marinate them in a sturdy plastic bag, to save on fridge space. The ribs can be prepared up to 2 to 3 days in advance at this point, and kept chilled until ready to BBQ.

Heat BBQ and transfer ribs to the grill, and cook long enough to brown. Baste frequently with leftover BBQ sauce, and serve immediately with extra warmed sauce on the side.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cold Summer Gazpacho

Gazpacho is the perfect soup for serving ice cold during the hottest days of the summer. A classic Spanish dish, Gazpacho is both simple and delicious. Full of ripe summer garden vegetables, this chilled tomato-based soup is an ideal choice for a simple lunch or light starter on a warm summer evening. Just be sure to make it a little ahead of time so that the flavors have time to mingle and develop. Best of all — it doesn't require any cooking!

Serves 6-8

4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 32-oz bottle V8 juice
2 cups cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 1/4 cups finely chopped Vidalia onion 
1 cup fresh basil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Tabasco to taste
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In a food processor, purée half the above vegetables and about 1-2 cups of the V8 juice. Transfer to a large bowl, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables and V8 juice. Add 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar, Worcestershire Sauce, salt and pepper to taste, plus Tabasco Sauce to your liking. Mix well and chill for one to two hours before serving. Serve with some homemade croutons and a dollop of sour cream. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Maple Walnut & Rum Ice Cream

There is no better summertime treat than a bowl of homemade ice cream. Ever since I bought my Lello Gelato Maker earlier this year, I have taken full advantage of the masses of fresh berries in the markets these days and created delicious Strawberry, Blackberry and Cherry Gelatos, right here in my own home. Having won a pint of Brooklands Farm Maple Syrup this past weekend, my husband took Gelato matters into his own hands, and decided to make his first batch of homemade ice cream — Maple Walnut and Rum!

Maple Walnut & Rum Ice Cream
Makes about 4 cups

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup Rum
3/4 cup Maple Syrup
1/2 cup walnut pieces

Pour the cream, milk, rum, maple syrup and walnut pieces in the bowl of an ice cream maker, and freeze 40-50 minutes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Muskoka Berry Cosmo

One of the loveliest ways to celebrate cocktail hour in Muskoka, is overlooking an azure blue lake while sitting on the dock as the sun is beginning to set, just as a gentle breeze skips across the water. The distant sound of a loon or a passing family of ducks makes it even more magical.

One 'quack' from Mom and the chicks get in formation! 

This recipe for a Muskoka Berry Cosmo is one of my friends Chris's favourite cocktails, especially when it's garnished with two or three of Brookland Farm's sweet Ontario strawberries, and a lump or two of ice. 

Muskoka Strawberry Cosmopolitan
Serves 2

6 oz vodka
2 oz triple sec
Juice of 1/3 lime
1 oz pure cranberry juice, for desired colour

1 cup ice cubes
Fresh Ontario Strawberries, for garnish

Shake vodka, triple sec, lime and cranberry juice vigorously in a shaker with ice. Strain into 2 martini glasses and garnish with some fresh Ontario strawberries. Serve ice cold with a plate of hot hors d'oeuvres.

Note: For a sweeter Cosmo, add more Triple Sec. For a pinker Cosmo, add more Cranberry juice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rick's Jerk Chicken

The term 'Jerk' comes from the Spanish 'Charqui' (char-key), which is meat cooked over a slow wood fire. These days, 'Jerk' doesn’t refer to the cooking method, but rather, the fiery spice mix rubbed on meat before it’s grilled. Jerk seasoning, if you're unfamiliar with it, is based on two main ingredients: Scotch Bonnet chili peppers (or habaneros) and allspice. My friend Rick created this delicious Jerk Chicken recipe over the weekend. Fiery, fragrant and full of flavour, Rick marinated the breasts overnight to maximize the zesty zing. Be sure to have some cucumber water or a cold beer nearby, to help you cool off!

Rick's Jerk Chicken
Serves 6

1/2 cup malt or white vinegar 
2 tbsp dark rum
2 Scotch bonnet peppers, with seeds, chopped*
1 red onion, chopped
4 green onion tops, chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp ground allspice
4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp molasses
6 chicken breasts, bone-in or out
1/2 cup lime juice
Salt and pepper

*Note: Scotch Bonnet peppers are very hot and can cause extreme pain if they come in contact with your eyes. Wear protective gloves while handling the chilies and the jerk paste!

Put vinegar, rum, hot peppers, onion, green onion tops, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and molasses into a blender. Pulse until mostly smooth. Place chicken in a large freezer bag, or in a large roasting pan or baking dish. Pour lime juice over the chicken and coat well. Add the jerk paste to the chicken pieces and coat well. Seal the bag or cover the chicken in the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove chicken from the marinade bag or pan. Put the remaining marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to use as a basting sauce for the chicken. 

Preheat BBQ grill to medium high. Sprinkle chicken halves with salt and pepper, and place on the grill, skin side down. Cook, turning the chickens occasionally and basting with marinade, until the chicken breasts are cooked through. The chicken is done when the juices run clear — about 165-170°F for the breast and 180-185°F for the thigh. Transfer chicken to platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm and let stand 15 minutes. Garnish with some sliced lemons and green onions.

Cucumber Water
Makes 1 pitcher

1 jug of cold water
2-3 slices fresh lemon
2-3 slices fresh cucumber

Place all the ingredients in a pitcher and chill for an hour before serving. Cucumber water is great for hot spicy foods likes Jerk Chicken or Beef Vindaloo!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Diane's Homemade Muskoka Lemonade

Fresh homemade lemonade is such a simple and refreshing summertime treat, I wonder why I've never tried it before. My good friend Diane made it this weekend and I was surprised how easy and delicious it was to prepare. All you need is a handful of fresh lemons, some sugar, water and a lovely pitcher. Begin with preparing a simple syrup made with equal parts sugar and water and cook briefly in a saucepan over medium heat. Then add the lemon juice and chill until required. For an extra kick, you could add some Gin and make a classic Tom Collins cocktail, an old favourite from years gone by.

Tom Collins, as the story goes, was an all round mischief maker, who was known to sit in bars and talk wickedly of everyone he'd met. This led to everyone going looking for Tom Collins, but he was no where to be found. The reason was of course, Tom Collins did not exist. 
The prank came to be known as The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874. A couple of years later, a new drink was named after the hoax, so those desperately looking for their revenge would walk into a bar, asking for Tom Collins, and instead receive the sour cocktail! A long story, but a delightful drink — perfect on these long summer nights.

Diane's Muskoka Lemonade
Serves 6 

1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1 cup lemon juice (about 4-6 lemons)
3-4 cups cold water (to dilute)

Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved. While the sugar is dissolving, use a juicer to extract the juice from 4-6 lemons, enough for one cup of juice. Add the juice and sugar water to a pitcher. Add 3-4 cups of cold water, more or less, to the desired strength. Refrigerate 30-40 minutes. If the lemonade is too sweet for your taste, add a little more straight lemon juice to it. Serve with ice and sliced lemons.

Tom Collins
Serves 1

1 1/2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup
club soda
maraschino cherry for garnish (optional)
lemon slice for garnish

Pour the gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup in a collins glass with ice cubes. Stir and top with club soda. Sometimes a mixing tin is placed on the glass and the mix is given a quick shake prior to adding the soda. Garnish with a cherry and lemon slice. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Alain Ducasse: Franco-American Cuisine at Mix

With one-of-a-kind culinary creations and the city's best views of the Strip, Mix is at the pinnacle of style and height of indulgence. Located at the top of 'THE' hotel — an odd name I know — Mix is the vision of Alain Ducasse, one of the culinary world's most renowned chefs. 
Known for his intricate, flawless French cuisine, Alain Ducasse has won many Michelin stars from France to New York, and now at Mix in Las Vegas, where the setting is as much of the experience as the cuisine. 

Famed Chef Alain Ducasse

Designed by Patrick Jouin, Mix was named 'Best Restaurant' by the Travel + Leisure Design Awards 2006, and honoured with a Michelin Star on the prestigious guide's first Las Vegas visit in 2008. Mix received a Michelin Star again in 2009. It also received the coveted AAA Four Diamond Award two years in a row. Adorned in white and silver, Mix features a sweeping staircase, mid-century modern furniture and a stunning 24-foot chandelier of 15,000 hand-blown glass spheres — a halo of bubbles made from Murano glass. The design concept is based on Heaven — a large white dining room with a raised silver cloud (the private dining area) with raindrops falling from above (the handblown Murano glass orbs).

Mix's stunning Murano glass chandelier — the largest chandelier in the world 
until just a few months ago

The restaurant features contemporary and classic French and American dishes with global accents, as well as signature dishes from Alain Ducasse's restaurants in Paris and Monte Carlo. Signature dishes, original creations brought forth by executive chef Jason Arbusto and fine wines from a cellar 5000 bottles strong are served in this transparent showcase of a room. Having started with a glass of champagne at Bellagio before we arrived at Mix, I decided to try a glass of their signature French Rosé. The sommelier arrived at the table with the biggest bottle I'd ever seen — but then, I should have realized — it's Vegas. Everything is larger than life!

The biggest bottle of Rosé I've ever seen!

Alain Ducasse Shrimp Cocktail at Mix in Las Vegas

As we looked over the menu, we were presented with a warm and delicious amuse-bouche of Fennel Cream Soup in a small demi-tasse cup. We followed with one of Alain Ducasses's signature appetizers — Shrimp cocktail. Seems pretty standard, but not when Chef Ducasse adds his special touch. Combined with a horseradish custard and a spicy tomato syrup, the poached shrimp dance on the tongue combining a multitude of flavours, from sweet to spicy to umami — that flavour that makes you go "Hmmm". We followed with another American classic, New York Strip Steak with a side of Creamed Spinach. 

Creamy Spinach

My husband finished with a Baba au Rhum, an Alain Ducasse classic from his Monte Carlo restaurant. A small pitcher of rum and a bowl of rich cream arrive with the plated cake, allowing each guest to customize their own dessert. The final coup d'état — a tray of fresh baked Madeleines are brought to the table, still warm from the oven.

Alain Ducasse's deconstructed Baba au Rhum, with the rum and cream on the side

Fresh baked Madeleines

Feeling well fed and indulged

Adjacent to Mix, is their red themed lounge which is styled as Hell, a counterpoint to Mix's Heaven motif. Guests enter through a foreboding door with an oversized luminous X marking the entry! One of the most stylishly hip lounges in Vegas, Mix Lounge offers innovative cocktail concoctions, an stellar bar menu and a seductive blend of music spun by savvy DJs each and every night. Guests can reserve a table indoors, or step out onto the spectacular 64th-floor balcony and enjoy breathtaking views of the famed Las Vegas Strip.

The spectacular view of Luxor from the MIX Lounge

The luminous door from 'Heaven' to 'Hell'

MIX Lounge

Alain Ducasse Shrimp Cocktail
Serves 4

1 lb Shrimp (about 20)
6oz Horseradish Royale
4oz Spicy Tomato Syrup
1oz Candied lemon Zest
4 Dried Lemon Chips
4oz Mesclun Salad
2oz Pan De Mie Croutons
Verjus Vinaigrette
Salt & Pepper

For the poached shrimp: Peel and devein shrimp. Bring a court bouillon to a boil, add shrimp. When cooked and tender remove from liquid and cool.

Horseradish Royale:
32oz Heavy Cream
16oz Horseradish
44oz Creme Fraiche
8 Gelatin leaves
Salt & Pepper

Infuse heavy cream, horseradish, salt and pepper in a large pot over low heat. Pass through a fine chiniose. Bloom gelatin in cold water. Dissolve gelatin in the horseradish cream, combine with creme fraiche. Reserve.

Spicy Tomato Syrup:
6oz Sugar
3oz Olive Oil
32oz Tomatoes
1oz Garlic cloves
1oz Salt
1/2oz Black Pepper Mignonette
1/2oz Red Chili
3oz Red Wine Vinegar
2oz Basil

In a pan make melt together sugar and olive oil. Cook over medium heat until sugar has melted and a light caramel has formed, about 10 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar. Cut tomatoes in half and add. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Pass through a fine chiniose and cool. Reserve.

Candied Lemon Zest:
8oz Lemon juice
8oz Sugar
8oz Lemon Zest (10 lemons)

Remove the zest from 10 lemons. Cut into 1 inch julienne; blanch one time in cold water. Combine lemon juice and sugar in a small pot; bring to a boil to make syrup. Add lemon zest and simmer until soft and translucent. Cool and reserve.

Dried Lemon Chips:
1 Lemon
Powdered Sugar

Freeze lemon; slice as thin as possible on a slicer. Place lemon slices on a non-stick baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 200°F for 45 minutes. Chips should be crisp and take no color. Reserve.

Pan de Mie Croutons:
Sliced sandwich bread
Clarified Butter

Remove crust from pan de mie. Cut into 1/8 inch croutons. Heat butter in a sauté pan, toast croutons until golden brown. Season with salt and reserve.

To Assemble: Set 1 1/2 oz Horseradish Royale in a bowl; leave to set 1 hour in the refrigerator. Place 1oz spicy tomato syrup on top of royale. Add shrimp, candied lemon zest, salt & pepper. Finish with mixed greens, croutons and dried lemon chip.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Olives: Todd English at Bellagio

'Olives by Todd English' is one of Bellagio's many fine restaurants. Located on the water side of Bellagio in Las Vegas, Olives has one of the few outdoor terraces that overlook the hotel's spectacular fountains which combine water, music and light in a dazzling performance of complex choreography. 

In 1991, Todd English caught the culinary world's eye when the James Beard Foundation named him their National Rising Star Chef. English followed through on that promise, as the James Beard Foundation subsequently named him Best Chef in the Northeast USA in 1994. Nation's Restaurant News named English one of their "Top 50 Tastemakers" in 1999. 

In 2001, English was awarded Bon Appetit's Restaurateur of the Year award. Also was English has recently been named to the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who in Food and Beverage in America." In recent years, English has established Olives as one of the most prestigious names in the nation by opening other locations around the world: Olives New York in the W Hotel in Union Square, Olives Las Vegas inside the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Olives DC in the heart of Washington, D.C. and Olives Aspen at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Colorado.

We arrived at Olives in Las Vegas for a late lunch last week, and were lucky to garner one of the few outdoor tables on the terrace overlooking Lake Bellagio. Drawing from his Italian heritage while in Italy, English developed his unique style and approach to cooking, and offers an Italian infused Mediterranean inspired menu at Olives, with luncheon features such as Grilled Squid and Octopus, Watermelon Gazpacho, Beef Carpaccio and a host of tasty flatbreads with topping such as Fig and Prosciutto and a rich Portobello with Fontina cheese and truffle oil.

Grilled Squid and Octopus with a vinaigrette of chickpeas, tomatoes, 
toasted garlic and parsley

Delicious entrées include Shrimp Crusted Pacific Swordfish, Braised Beef Short Rib and Pan Roasted Rib-Eye — a recipe which English conveniently features on his website. Like foie gras, this shamelessly rich dish is one of the great indulgences, best saved for special occasions. Rib eye of beef, also known as prime rib, is a boneless cut from the rib portion. You can substitute New York strip steak.

Pan Roasted Rib-Eye with Gorgonzola Vidalia Onions
Serves 4

Vidalia Onions:
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Rib-Eye with Gorgonzola and Onions:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped smoked ham
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tbsp scallions
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
4 10-ounce rib-eye steaks
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

For the Vidalia onions, place a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot, add the butter and oil. Add the onions and stir. Let the onions sweat before the sugar starts to caramelize. Cook until perfectly browned, not light but not too dark, about 40 minutes. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. 

Place a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot, add the butter, onions and ham, stirring well after each addition. Cook until lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes.

Add the cream, rosemary and scallions, stirring well after each addition, and cook until the mixture begins to reduce, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and when it is hot, add the oil. Sprinkle the steaks with the salt and pepper. Add the steaks to the pan and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

Add the Gorgonzola cheese to the onion mixture and cook until just heated through. Slice the steaks on the bias and serve on top of the Gorgonzola onions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crispy Corn Fritters

These easy and delicious Corn Fritters make a super cocktail appetizer served with a garnish of Lemon Cilantro Sauce, or on their own as a side dish with grilled chicken, fish or pork. All the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda and cayenne, are placed in a large bowl, followed by the wet: corn, green onions, an egg and buttermilk. The combined mixture is whisked together then dropped into a hot skillet and fried until the fritters are puffed and golden brown. The Corn Fritters can be served on their own, or garnished with a light and tangy Lemon Cilantro Sauce, for a lovely summertime treat.

Corn Fritters
Makes 30-40 fritters

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 cup corn kernels
5 green onions, minced
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk
vegetable oil, for frying

Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add the wet, with the buttermilk at the end. Mix thoroughly to form a stiff batter. Cover and chill until required. Pour some vegetable oil in a skillet and when hot, drop in teaspoons of the batter, and fry in batches, until the fritters are puffed and golden on both sides. Let drain on a wire rack or paper towel until the batter is finished. Serve with warm or ambient, as an appetizer with a Lemon Cilantro Dip, or as a side dish with grilled chicken.

Lemon Cilantro Dip
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/8 tsp dried crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with corn fritters, and garnish with some lemon zest curls.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Starfish: Grilled Sardines & Calamari Salad

Starfish Oyster Bar & Grill has been one of my favourite restaurants in Toronto for years. Owned by Patrick McMurray, one of the fastest oyster shuckers in the world, Starfish changes its menu daily to include delicious fish, seafood and oyster offerings such as Grilled Sardines with Frisée Salad, Provencal Fish Soup, House-Smoked Haddock Fishcakes, PEI Mussels, an enviable list of oysters from BC Beach Angels to Scottish Loch Ryan's, and one of my favourites — Whole Boiled Lobster with drawn butter and house cut fries. 

Calamari Salad with Melon, Radishes, Watercress and Toasted Prosciutto

Provencal Fish Soup

Open for both lunch and dinner five days a week, and dinner Saturday and Sunday, Starfish has always been a lively place with great food and friendly staff. The cadre we encountered at lunch were sadly not the most obliging, however the food made up for their lack of hospitality. Next time, dinner reservations only. 

Grilled Sardines
Serves 4

16 sardines, cleaned, gutted and scaled
sea salt
olive oil

If you can, get your fishmonger to clean and scale the sardines. Sprinkle them liberally with the sea salt and leave for at least 1 hour. Preheat your barbecue so that it's nice and hot. Rinse the sardines under some water and then dry them with paper towels. Brush the sardines with a little olive oil and then grill for several minutes each side until they are cooked. Serve immediately with a dash of olive oil drizzled over the tops, and sea salt sprinkled over them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Las Vegas: Le Cirque at Bellagio

A gastronomic landmark, Le Cirque is the acclaimed Michelin-starred French restaurant located inside Las Vegas' renowned Bellagio Hotel. Le Cirque features a superb menu and an elegant, yet whimsical circus theme designed by Adam D. Tihany, who has created the designs for many upscale Las Vegas restaurants. 

Bellagio — home to Le Cirque Las Vegas

The cuisine is described as Classic French with contemporary influences, and Executive Chef Gregory Pugin is an innovator, offering cold and hot appetizers that titillate the taste buds, and delicious amuse-bouche. Our evening started with a wonderful Martini at the Le Cirque back-lit onyx Bar, followed by a glass of Pink Champagne once we were seated a our table. The evening's amuse-bouche arrived — a small plate with a succulent Lobster Cake and Glass of Minted Pea Purée.  

Minted Pea Soup Purée

Lobster Cake Amuse-Bouche

Signature dishes include Le Cirque's Lobster and Avocado Salad with black truffle vinaigrette, which I ordered. It was very delicately flavoured and full of large morsels of lobster. The Tartare du Boeuf was a real winner though Australian Wagyu 'Kobe' Beef Steak Tartare with Heirloom Tomatoes and Lotus Chips. The tartare had been mixed with a spicy dijon mustard that provided a real kick to the robust Kobe beef. Entrées included L'Agneau du Colarado, an espelette crusted Colorado Lamb Chop garnished with taggiasche olive panisse, piquillo purée and farcie of spring vegetables, and Le Canard de Barbarie, a honey glazed Barbary Duck Magret with Szechwan Roasted Mango, Fig and Turnip in a Ruby Port Sauce.

Le Cirque's Lobster and Avocado Salad with black truffle vinaigrette

Australian Wagyu Kobe Beef Tartare with Heirloom Tomatoes and Lotus Chips

L'Agneau du Colorado

We finished with a Citrus Panna Cotta, Mandarine & Champagne Sorbet, Kefir Lime Leaf and a bowl of Le Cirque Coffee Iced Cream. The service and cuisine were impeccable — one of the best meals I've ever enjoyed. My husband had alerted them to the fact that we were in Las Vegas for a special birthday, and as a parting gesture, the Maitre D' presented me with an exquisitely crafted custom red box with 2 hidden drawers concealing Belgian Chocolates. It was a beautiful end to a magical evening — one I'll never forget. Thank you HB xo

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Speck & Goat Cheese Rolls

Speck is a lightly smoked and seasoned dry cured ham from the Tyrol, a mountainous region where Austria, Switzerland and Italy come together. Like prosciutto, Speck is made from the hind leg of the pig, and is a delightful alternative to Pancetta. Wonderfully delicate and tender with a rich savoury flavour, Speck pairs beautifully with goat cheese, and is absolutely delicious in this easy recipe for Speck and Goat Cheese Rolls, which can be served with some fine mustard, chives or a squeeze of lemon. A simple and tasty appetizer, these Speck & Goat Cheese Rolls can be made ahead of time and simply chilled until you need them!

Speck & Goat Cheese Rolls
Makes 12-16 appetizers

1 cup soft goat's cheese
1 tbsp chopped chives (optional)
1/2 lb Speck smoked ham, sliced

Mix the goat's cheese and chives in a small bowl until well blended and smooth. Place a slice of smoked ham on a work surface and spread 2-3 tablespoons of the goat's cheese mixture on the ham, then roll up into a fat cigar shape and chill, covered with cling film, for at least 15-30 minutes. Once firm, slice the rolls into 1/2" bite size pieces by slicing on the diagonal and serve.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grilled Quail with Buzz Buzz Sauce

If you've ever wondered if cooking a bird as small as a quail is worth the time and effort, just remember that good things do indeed come in small packages. As far as time and effort goes, it requires very little of either to serve quail. Its small size means that it takes just a sprinkle of seasoning or a brief amount of time in a marinade to add tons of extra flavor. Not that you need to; even with just a dash of salt, quail meat is tender and succulent. And quail cooks very quickly — 10 minutes or so on the grill and dinner is ready. The daintiness of quail makes it seem like a fancy meal, but it's also the perfect finger food, so drop the knife and fork and dig in. 

Should your butcher give you a choice, semi-boneless quail with the rib cage removed, are easier to eat than un-boned quail. Grilling quail with a brush of olive oil, a little salt and a dollop or two of hot sauce (my husband makes his own homemade Buzz Buzz sauce), makes the outside nice and crispy, and the slightly charred flavor of the skin is scrumptious with this lovely Portuguese-inspired dish. You can have the grilled quail served in about 15 minutes, although it will taste like you slaved over it for hours. Enjoy!

Grilled Quail with Buzz Buzz Sauce
Serves 6 as a main; 24 as appetizers

12 Fresh Quail
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup Buzz Buzz hot sauce

Using poultry shears, remove the back bone
 from each of the quail and place in a large bowl with the olive oil. Add some salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add the Buzz Buzz and mix together thoroughly. Cover with cling film and chill until ready to grill. You can prepare this up to a day ahead. Place the quail on a med-hot barbecue grill and cook until done and they have attractive grill marks, about 3 minutes per side. Serve with a some lemon wedges and tzatziki or extra hot sauce if you wish.

Buzz Buzz Sauce

12 fresh red chillies, depending on how hot you want it
1 tbsp garlic, blanched and chopped
1 tsp salt flakes
½ tsp oregano
½ tbsp paprika
3½ oz olive oil
1¾ oz red wine vinegar

o make the Buzz Buzz, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the chillies on a roasting tray and roast them for 10 minutes. Cool and roughly chop the chillies. Place the chillies, garlic, salt, oregano, paprika, olive oil and vinegar in a saucepan, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool, then blend it to a purée in a jug blender or food processor. Store in a lidded container at room temperature; it will keep for about a month. Shake before using.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Berrylicious Summer Pudding

Summer Pudding is the quintessential English dessert, and one of my personal favourites! A triumphal end to many summer lunches and dinners I've hosted over the years, Summer Pudding has also become an eagerly anticipated summer treat for many of my friends. Summer Pudding is as easy to make as it is outstandingly delicious. Packed full of fresh summer berries that have been simmered with brown sugar and framboise, then poured into a bread lined bowl and chilled overnight, the pectin in the berries react with the sugar in the bread, and as the pudding chills, it firms up into the most fabulous crimson coloured berry-licious pudding. Served with a dollop of creme fraiche, Summer Pudding is heaven on earth.

Summer Pudding
Serves 12

1 lb strawberries
1 lb raspberries
1 lb blueberries
1 lb blackberries
1 package frozen mixed berries
1 cup light brown sugar
1 loaf white bread
1/2 cup framboise

Remove the crusts from the bread. Wash and trim all the fresh berries, and add them to a large saucepan with the frozen berries, framboise, brown sugar and 1/2 cup of water, and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the berries have released their juices, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then remove 1 cup of the juice and set aside. 

Lightly grease a medium sized bowl with some vegetable oil, then line the bowl with the slices of bread, covering the bottom and the sides. Using a large spoon, ladle the berry mixture into the bread lined bowl, then top with the remaining slices of bread. Lay a flat plate on top with a heavy weight to squash the fruit down, and chill 12-24 hours. 

When ready to serve, place a large serving plate on top of the bowl and gently invert. Shake gently to release the pudding onto the plate and spoon the reserved juice over the top, garnishing with some sprigs of fresh mint. Serve cut into wedges, with a bowl of thick creme fraiche on the table. Heaven!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Classic Cobb Salad

The Cobb Salad was invented at The Brown Derby in Los Angeles in 1926, and named for its creator — Robert Howard Cobb. This main dish garden salad is usually made up of mixed salad greens, tomatoes, crisp bacon, roasted chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, avocados, chives, Roquefort cheese and a red-wine vinaigrette. Stories vary as to whether the salad was invented by Cobb or by his chef, Chuck Wilson, but legend is that Cobb had not eaten near midnight, and so he mixed together leftovers he found in the kitchen, along with some bacon cooked by the line cook, and tossed it with their French dressing. And so, the Cobb Salad was born.

Using local organic green and farm-fresh eggs from Brooklands Farm in Muskoka and smoked ham from Cosmo's Smoked Meat at the Bracebridge Farmer's Market, we enjoyed this lovely heart-smart Cobb Salad over the July 1st long weekend, along with a warm baguette and a bottle or two of chilled Rosé. One of the lovely things about a Cobb Salad is that it is, by it's nature, a spontaneous creation — so do what Chuck Wilson did, and grab whatever tasty leftovers you have in your fridge, and create your own Cobb. 

Muskoka Cobb Salad
Serves 6

1 lb cooked chicken breast, sliced
1 lb cooked smoked ham, sliced
8 oz Cheddar cheese, sliced
8 oz Swiss cheese, sliced
1 ripe avocado, skinned, pitted and sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 eggs, hardboiled and quartered
1 head of boston lettuce or local greens
3 greens onions, chopped
2 tbsp chives, chopped

2/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, garlic, vinegar, Dijon, and salt & pepper to taste. Whisk the dressing until it's emulsified. 

In a large salad bowl, toss together the mixed lettuces, green onions and 1/2 cup of vinaigrette and mix well. Compose the salad. Arrange the chicken, ham, cheeses, and tomato decoratively over the greens and garnish with the sliced egg, avocado and chives. Drizzle the remainder of the dressing over the composed salad and serve.