Friday, September 30, 2011

Estiatorio Volos: A Temple to Modern Greek Cuisine

We've been going to Mediterra for years. Conveniently located across from the Canadian Opera Centre at Richmond and University, we were always assured of a comfortable table, a pleasant meal and a cold glass of wine before heading across the street for one of the COC's latest operatic productions. Now owner Andreas Antoniou has relaunched the family business as Estiatorio Volos, a contemporary Greek restaurant serving a more upscale take on the predictable cuisine of it's predecessor, which had been run successfully for years by Bob Antoniou, the restaurateur behind Little Anthony’s. 

Andreas Antoniou and the lovely Volos hostess greet guests at the door

So when Antoniou closed Mediterra last year, he handed the keys to his son Andreas, who undertook a major redesign of both the space and the concept, and hired interior designer Marc Kyriacou, who has completely reinvented the space, creating a fabulous, open, friendly Mediterranean-inspired environment using lots of natural wood, stone and more natural light. Kyriacou has also introduced marine accents such as oversized Greek urns, or pithoi, and a whimsical chandelier made of green glass fishing buoys which hang over the impressive twelve-seat celebration table. Andreas told me that next week, a 12-foot lemon tree is due to be delivered to further enhance Volos's bright new modern foyer! A perfectionist by nature, Andreas is committed to using only the highest quality local produce, creating a unique contemporary culinary experience rooted in authentic Greek cuisine.  

Greek food expert, Diane Kochilas, who consulted on Volos's menu

The open kitchen is still presided over by former Mediterra chef Reza Parsia, but he’s collaborated with New York-based author, critic and chef Diane Kochilas on a menu of authentic, modern Greek dishes, with delicious results. Andreas knew of Kochilas by dining at Pylos in NYC, another Greek-inspired restaurant that bears the hallmark of her touch. Andreas approached Diane to come and create a menu that would put Volos on equal footing with the top Greek restaurants of Montreal, New York and Chicago. Kochilas, is a New Yorker who lives in Greece, so she has an eye for New York chic mixed with down-home Greek flavours. 

The new Volos menu reflects this vision, featuring modern twists on traditional classics, such as Horiatiki Salad with its classic combination of cherry heirloom and cluster tomatoes, field cucumber, red onion, Kalamata olives and barrel feta, laced with a generous lashing of chef Reza Parsia’s top-notch Cretan organic olive oil; and my favourite, Grilled Moroccan Octopus with Melitzanosalata and fig-balsamic reduction — perfectly tender and smoky from the grill, it's richness cut with the melitzanosalata, a classic dip of mashed eggplant sharpened with garlic and lemon; Dolmades with grape leaf wrapped Metaxa-soaked golden raisins, pine nuts, arborio rice and Tzatziki — beautifully textured and full of flavour; and Giant Sea Scallops with walnut and roasted eggplant purée. 

Grilled Moroccan Octopus

Dolmades with grape leaf wrapped Metaxa-soaked golden raisins, pine nuts, 
arborio rice and Tzatziki

And that's just to whet your appetite. Principal plates include Moussaka: a towering terrine of eggplant, zucchini and yukon gold potato sauced with a Greek-style Bolognese perfumed with cinnamon and allspice, all topped with a fluffy, cheesy snowcap of Kasseri and Kafaltyri cheese béchamel — the best I've ever had; Aegean-Style Grilled Halibut with braised swiss chard and feta mashed potatoes; Seafood Kritharoto, a spin on seafood risotto with orzo standing in for rice and kefalotyri in place of parmigiano. The saffron-stained pasta is cooked in briny seafood stock and is swimming with mussels, shrimp, squid, scallops, halibut and wild salmon; Exohico: phyllo pastry stuffed with lamb and fresh vegetables; and of course their wonderful Daily Fresh Whole Fish — Sea Bass or Red Snapper — served intact, and grilled with just a little Cretan olive oil and fresh lemon, just like I had served at Zorba's, my favourite seafood restaurant in Macrolimano, just south of Athens. 

Whole Sea Bass, grilled whole, with sautéed fennel and peppers, and seasonal vegetables

The outstanding Moussaka at Volos

Volos also features a small pre-opera menu, with a choice of four appetizers, four mains and a selection of traditional Greek desserts such as Baklava and also Pressed Greek Yogurt with Honey and Fresh Berries, which was deliciously rich and thick with a small puddle of honey, crowned with a selection of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and a sprig of mint. 

Pressed Greek Yogurt with Honey and Fresh Berries

Beyond pleasing guests with great food, excellent service and a stunning new interior, Volos strives to educate guests about the exotic and unique wines from one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions, by offering a great selection of affordable delicious Greek wines. Servers have been exhaustively trained on both the food and unique Greek wines offered at Volos, which I experienced first hand when our warm, charming and professional server Briana, suggested a lovely Santorini Boutari, one of the many extensive Greek white wines that Volos serves by the glass.

Butari from Santorini with a very pale straw colour, citric undertones 
and a full very tart flavor — simple but clean and a long finish. 

Andreas uses a Greek word to describe his restaurant’s philosophy: Philoxenia, which encompasses the notions of caring, kindness, thoughtfulness and benevolence, which a host shows towards guests while visiting one's home, and Andreas is leading by example — whether it's greeting guests at the door, coming by to say hello and ask how diners are enjoying their meal, or taking time to talk with me about this new exciting venture, he's committed to making Volos the very best it can be.

With Andreas behind the camera, he got me in the picture!

“Having had the opportunity to live and work abroad, I’ve experienced many of the world’s best restaurants as a customer which has given me a new perspective on dining. Returning to Toronto, I felt strongly that I could build a strong team to deliver a contemporary Greek experience with the type of service, presentation and ambience that one would expect in any premiere restaurant. We’re committed to achieving that goal.” 

With Volos's exciting new menu, extensive array of delicious Greek wines and top notch service, Andreas Antoniou is successfully redefining contemporary Greek cuisine in Toronto. His future is assuredly bright, just like the twinkle in his eye. Kalí óreksi! Bon appetit.

133 Richmond Street West
Toronto, Ontario

Diane's Moussaka
Recipe courtesy of Diane Kochilas 
Serves 10–12 

Meat Sauce:
3-4 tbsp olive oil
3 large red onions, finely chopped
1 lb button mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 lb ground beef or combination of ground beef and lamb
2 cups chopped, plum tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp flour
7 cups milk
Salt and pinch of white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh Greek anthotyro (or ricotta), drained
1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

Olive oil for frying
2 -3 large eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/8" slices
2 large zucchini, trimmed and sliced on the bias into large ovals, 1/8" thick
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8" tick slices, lengthwise, kept in a bowl of water to keep from oxidizing
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes, drained

To prepare the meat sauce: Heat olive oil in a large, wide pot and sauté onions until soft. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté until the mushrooms are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the meat, reduce heat, and stir until meat takes on some color, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, spices, wine, salt, and pepper. Raise heat slightly, bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until the sauce is thick. Sauce may be prepared 1–2 days ahead of time and refrigerated. You may need to add a little water to the sauce in the beginning, so that there is enough liquid to bring to a boil.

To prepare béchamel: Heat butter in large saucepan over medium heat. When it melts and is bubbly, add the flour. Whisk until the flour begins to turn light golden. Be careful not to color too much. Pour in the milk and whisk until thick. This might take around 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk the yolks into the hot béchamel. Add the cheeses and whisk until smooth. Set aside, covered with a kitchen towel to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the sauce. May be made several hours ahead, reheated and thinned as needed.

To prepare the vegetables: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the eggplants in one layer on an oiled sheet pan. Brush the top with olive oil. It's best to use sheet pans with a perforated rack, to let steam circulate around the vegetables as they bake. Bake until soft, about 12 minutes. Remove. Repeat with remaining eggplants slices until all are cooked to tender but al dente. They should not fall apart. In a large, heavy, nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the zucchini slices, turning once. Do this in batches if necessary and replenish the oil as needed. Remove and blot dry on paper towels.
Remove the potatoes from the water and blot dry with paper towels. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet and sauté the potatoes over medium heat for a few minutes, just to soften but not to color. You will need to do this in batches. Set aside on platters lined with paper towels.

To assemble the moussaka: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread about 3 tablespoons of olive oil on the bottom of a large, deep baking dish. Spoon the crushed tomatoes on the bottom of the pan. Place the potato slices in a single layer over the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Place a layer of eggplant on top and season lightly with salt and pepper. Mix 6 tablespoons of the béchamel into the meat sauce. Spread about a third of the meat sauce over the eggplant slices. Spread a layer of zucchini, seasoned with salt and pepper, then a layer of meat sauce. Finish with a layer of eggplant slices, salt and pepper, and the last of the meat sauce, spread evenly on top. Pour the béchamel over the top, spreading it evenly with a spatula. If the béchamel is cold from having been made in advance and refrigerated, warm it slightly and loosen it up with a little additional milk, if necessary. Bake the moussaka uncovered for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until the béchamel is set and lightly golden. Remove, cool, and cut into serving pieces. Serve with a small wild arugula salad.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Red Lentil Soup with Bacon, Cumin & Harissa

Red lentils or “masoor dal” in India, are one of my favourite types of legume, full of fiber, protein, and iron, they're a near perfect food. Wonderfully versatile, they cook faster than other varieties and can be paired with a multitude of ingredients. This savoury Moroccan-spiced recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Bacon, Cumin and Harissa is both comforting and delicious, and gets an extra kick from the harissa, a hot chili paste typically associated with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

Most lentil soups fall into one of two categories: highly spiced, or not spiced — sometimes called bland. This one sits very happily at the spicy end with the harissa adding a tolerable amount of heat and a wonderful complexity of flavour. A hearty, thick and satisfying soup, the bacon, cumin and yogurt add a robust note to this delicious low fat soup, perfect for a cold October evening. Even the vibrant golden hue shouts Autumn.

Red Lentil Soup with Bacon, Cumin & Harissa
Serves 4-6

5 slices (4-ounces) bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 tsp ground cumin

2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp harissa paste
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine and 1/2 cup water
6 tbsp low fat yogurt
6 fresh sprigs of basil, for garnish

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a piece of paper towel, and set aside. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings from pan. Add the garlic, onion, and carrots to saucepan. Cook vegetables over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the the lentils, cumin, harissa (or tomato paste), chicken stock, wine and water; stir to combine. Simmer until the lentils are cooked and falling apart, about 25-30 minutes. The soup is fairly thick, so if you prefer it thinner just add more stock or water. Using an immersion or regular blender, purée the soup, leaving it somewhat chunky or smooth. Reheat if necessary, stirring in the lemon juice. To serve, divide the hot soup among four warmed soup plates and garnish with the reserved crumbled bacon, a dollop of yogurt and fresh sprig of basil.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of the great Mediterranean dishes, perfuming the kitchen with the essence of Provençal cuisine and all the colours of a glorious Muskoka autumn. Made with diced eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes, this delicious ratatouille is prepared by oven roasting the vegetables on a parchment lined baking sheet, which allows them to retain their own shape, texture and character. Only once the vegetables have been roasted gently in the oven for about an hour, with some lovely fresh herbs, garlic and a little olive oil, are they combined in a large bowl or serving platter, allowing the flavours to finally come together in one big happy marriage. 

The autumn colours of Muskoka

If you like Ratatouille, you'll love my friend Chris's recipe for Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille, and never go back to the traditional mushy stove top method. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the individual vegetables while keeping their structural integrity — it's also just more aesthetically pleasing, like sunshine on a plate. As with any ratatouille, it tastes even better the next day, so it's an ideal make-ahead dish.

Salud! A glass of wine before dinner.

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille

Makes 8 servings

1 medium eggplant, cut into cubes (4 cups)
2 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 bell peppers, red and yellow, de-seeded and diced

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables evenly over both sheets.

Roast, stirring the vegetables a few times, until the vegetables are slightly collapsed or shriveled, starting to brown, and very tender, about 60-80 minutes. If the vegetables look like they may burn, turn down the heat or pile them closer together. If they look dry, drizzle on a little more olive oil. Using a slotted spatula, spoon all of the vegetables and any juices into a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Classic French Crème Caramel

A true French classic, Crème Caramel is undoubtedly one of my favourite desserts. Rich, smooth and decadently delicious, this delightful creamy custard was my 'sweet' of choice growing up in England. Since then, Crème Caramel has taken on magical proportions — anything so outrageously delicious must be impossible to make. Au contraire, or so I discovered this past weekend. Faced with the spontaneous purchase of two-dozen farm fresh, free-range organic eggs from Brooklands Farm, I decided to tackle the time-honoured egg-rich über-pud, Crème Caramel, from the Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller.

Keller's recipe is surprisingly easy to prepare and calls for cooking the Crème Caramel in individual ramekins, making for easy, manageable and elegant single servings. All you need are four ingredients: milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. The first step is melting the sugar quickly on the stovetop until it thickens to a rich amber caramel, then pouring it quickly into each of the ramekins. For the custard, warm milk, sugar, vanilla, and eggs are whisked together then poured overtop. 

To ensure that the Crème Caramel bakes slowly and evenly, the custards are set in a hot water bath and cooked for 1 hour at 300°F. Once removed from the oven, the custards are cooled to room temperature, then served immediately, using a small knife to loosen the custard. The ramekins are then inverted, releasing the rich sweet caramel that nestles in a glorious amber puddle around each wobbly pud. Heaven. In his Bouchon cookbook, Keller calls this caramel covered custard, the pinnacle of all bistro desserts, and I agree. Thanks to his wonderful recipe, my very first Crème Caramel was absolutely perfect.

Crème Caramel

Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Thomas Keller - Bouchon


1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp light corn syrup
3 tbsp water

4 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups plus 3 tbsp sugar
5 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

To make the caramel: In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup and water to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring lightly to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until a rich, amber caramel forms, about 25 minutes. Wash down any sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Pour an equal amount of hot caramel into each ramekin; if the caramel gets too hard, gently reheat it.

To make the custard: 
Arrange eight 1-cup ramekins in a large roasting pan, and preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large saucepan, bring the milk and sugar just to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, about 5 minutes. Let cool until warm. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk the eggs with the yolks. Slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture and then the vanilla.

Strain the custard and pour it into the prepared ramekins. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custards for about 1 hour, or until they are set but still slightly jiggly in the centre. Remove the hot custards from the water bath and let them cool on a rack to room temperature, then serve immediately or cover and refrigerate the custards overnight.

To serve, run a thin knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen the custard. Invert the crème caramel onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining crème caramels and serve.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gougère with Raclette, Bacon & Chives

Cheese-flavored pasty puffs, or Gougères, are a classic French appetizer, made of pâte à choux flavoured with cheese, usually Gruyère, Comté or Swiss, but other cheeses can also be used. Gougères can be made as small individual bite size cheese puffs or piped as a wreath-shaped ring, like this delicious recipe for Gougère with Bacon and Chives, which is made with Raclette, a semi-firm mountain style cheese with a mild, creamy, nutty flavour and silky smooth texture, ideal for melting. Crisp on the outside, airy on the inside, this recipe for Gougère with Raclette, Bacon and Chives is loaded with flavour, and perfect served as an amuse-bouche or paired with a heart-warming soup for dinner. 

Individual bite-size apperitif Gougère - photo courtesy of

Gougère shaped into a wreath on a parchment lined baking sheet

Choux Pastry is a technique of mixing butter, eggs, water and flour that has been around for over 500 years. Invented by French chef Antonin Carême, the name comes from the French for cabbage, 'chou', because of the characteristic shape of the cream-filled puffs. The end result of pâte à choux depends on the technique being used. The puffs can be sweet or savory, filled or unfilled, topped or plain. As sweet treats, they can be filled with cream and topped with chocolate for eclairs, croquembouche or cream puffs; fried instead of baked for beignets. But once you master the technique for choux pastry, a whole world of puffy, crisp, delectable treats will be at your fingertips, like this deliciously moist and flavourful recipe for fluffy Gougère with Raclette, Bacon and Chives. You don’t even have to tell anyone it took just minutes to make — it’ll be our little secret.

Gougère with Raclette, Bacon and Chives
Serves 8-10

3 oz unsalted but
ter, cubed
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup flour
3 eggs
5 oz Raclette or Swiss cheese, grated
1 tsp Dijon mustard
5 slices smoked bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
2 tbsp chives, thinly sliced
salt and fresh pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, heat the butter and water until the butter is melted and the mixture is boiling. Remove from the heat; add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball. Return the pan to the stove and dry the dough over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer to a bowl and cool on the counter.

Beat the eggs into the mixture one at a time. Add the Raclette cheese, mustard, crumbled bacon, chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Using two spoons, shape the mixture into a 10" ring on the parchment lined baking sheet, then bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven to to 350°F and bake another 25 minutes, until the ring is nicely puffed and golden. Turn the oven off and leave the cheese puff inside for another 5-10 minutes, leaving the door slightly ajar. Serve on a wooden board and slice with a serrated knife.

To make individual bite-size Gougères, drop the dough by small spoonfuls onto the parchment paper and bake the same way, but reducing the baking time by one-third. Serve warm from the oven with cocktails.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Meatloaf: The Quintessential Comfort Food

In the kingdom of comfort food, meatloaf is royalty. Rich in flavour and simple to prepare, it fills you up and makes you feel good. Whether served with mashed potatoes, eaten as a sandwich, or sliced cold for a picnic the following day, meatloaf is a wonderfully versatile and budget-friendly food. 

For great flavour, I like to start with equal parts ground beef, pork, and veal, rather than just beef alone. Combining three types of ground meat and lots of veggies, lends terrific depth and texture to this Classic Meatloaf. Don't forget slathering the top with Heinz ketchup before it goes into the oven! The tomato sauce caramelizes into the most delicious glaze, and adds a wonderful tang and subtle sweetness to this robust and flavourful 'blue-plate special'. 

However, to qualify as the ultimate comfort meal, meatloaf needs it's crowning glory — a fluffy mound of creamy buttery mashed potatoes. The gastronomic equivalent of a warm blanket, we all return to simple fare when we crave comfort. So as the weather starts to turn chilly, what better way to nourish the body and soothe the soul, than making your own favourite comfort food — whatever it may be.

Classic Meatloaf
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine

1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (can substitute onion)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp fresh or dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh or dried thyme
1 cup ketchup
14 oz of ground beef
14 oz ground pork 
14 oz ground veal
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten slightly
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large heavy skillet cook the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and scallions in butter, over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Cover the skillet and stir occassionally until the carrots are tender, an additional 5 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/3 cup of ketchup. Cook for 1 more minute. In a large bowl, combine the meats, eggs, vegetables, bread crumbs, and parsley; mix together using your hands. Transfer the mixture to a 5-by-9 inch loaf tin. Cover the loaf with remaining ketchup, and bake in the oven for at least 1 hour, or until the meatloaf is cooked through. Let cool slightly before serving with mashed potatoes.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4-6

Meatloaf needs mashed potatoes to qualify as the ultimate comfort meal. These are the tastiest, creamiest mashed potatoes and go perfectly with meatloaf. 

4 lb yukon gold or baking potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters 
salt and pepper 
2 cups heavy cream 
3 tbsp butter 
2 tbsp chopped chives

In a large pot, bring the potatoes to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well. Heat the butter and cream in a small saucepan. Mash the potatoes well with a potato masher, or ricer, until smooth and free of chunks. Add the hot cream and butter, and season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped chives and mix well. Serve warm with meat loaf.

COOKING GADGET: Some recipes subscribe to cooking meatloaf free-form on a baking sheet, but I like to use my two-piece nonstick meatloaf pan, which bakes meatloaf to perfection, while draining fat to the outer pan during cooking. The results — a leaner, healthier dinner, saving calories and making cleanup a breeze. 

My wonderful 'Anolon' Nonstick Meat Loaf Pans

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Creamy in texture and buttery in flavor, this delicious Cream of Cauliflower Soup makes an elegant beginning to any holiday menu. Called Crème du Barry in France, its name lies in history, like many good French recipes. This easy, rich and creamy soup was named after Madame Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry, a famous French beauty who was the last official mistress of the ill-fated king, Louis XV. At the time, it was a common practice to recognize royalty and other public figures in the naming of new culinary creations, so whenever you see the term du Barry, you know the dish includes cauliflower. 

Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry — the cauliflower lady!

I can think of many foods I might want to be named after, other than cauliflower, but in this case it had to do with the dish being considered “high class” in preparation and presentation...creamy, silky, smooth, and pure. Although, Madame Du Barry was not exactly pure, her legend lives on in this soup. Coincidently, the first time I enjoyed Crème du Barry was when my husband and I were staying at Château Des Briottières, a beautiful family-run 18th century chateau set in the heart of the Loire Valley.

Château Des Briottières

The beautiful Château Des Briottières dining room

The Chateau's menu, drawn from traditional french recipes, was prepared by Hedwig, Francois's wife, who doubled as chef de cuisine on weekends. For the first course, Francois served us the most delicious Crème du Barry, the family's time-honoured recipe for Cream of Cauliflower Soup. It was silky smooth and luxuriously delicious, just like Francois and Château Des Briottières!

Cream of Cauliflower Soup (Crème du Barry)
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp butter
2 cups chopped leeks, white portion only, rinsed well
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups 10% cream

1 bay leaf
2 tsp sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

fresh chives or chervil, for garnish

In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the butter. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring constantly, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the stock, cream, bay leaf and sea salt, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very tender, about 45-60 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

Using a stick blender, purée the soup directly in the pot until it's very smooth and creamy. Alternatively, use a food processor, and puree the soup in batches. Press the soup through a chinois or other fine-mesh sieve set over a clean saucepan. Season with white pepper. Keep the soup warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Ladle the soup into warmed individual bowls, garnishing each serving with some fresh ground white pepper, snipped chives or chervil. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Decadent Sicilian-Style Chocolate Gelato

Gelato, the famous Italian ice cream, is considered by many to be the finest ice cream in the world. It has less air incorporated into it than North American ice cream, which makes it much denser, allowing the core flavours to really shine through. The ingredients for gelato vary from northern to southern Italy. 

Sicilian-style gelato is made with milk, sugar, flavouring, and cornstarch as the thickener — no cream or eggs, so it's fairly lean but still incredibly rich, smooth and full of fabulous flavour. Just be sure to use premium quality cocoa for this recipe to get its dark, rich and ultra chocolatey flavour. Low in fat, it'll satisfy all of your chocolate cravings while leaving out the guilt.

Decadent Chocolate Gelato Siciliano
serves 6-8

3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted to remove any lumps

Bring 2 cups of milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, combine 1 cup milk with sugar, cornstarch and sifted cocoa in a bowl, then stir into the hot milk. Cook until the sugar and cocoa dissolve. Allow to cool, then cover with plastic and refrigerate 1-2 hours. Once chilled, process the mixture in an ice cream or gelato maker, as per manufacturer's instructions, although I ended up doubling the specified time to get the desired consistency. To store, pour gelato into a plastic container, cover and place in the freezer until ready to serve. Gelato at a real gelateria is kept in special freezers so it doesn't freeze hard. You obviously won't be able to do this at home, so just take the gelato out 10-15 minutes before you plan to serve it, although it's best the day you make it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bishop's: Death by Chocolate

One of the most memorable desserts I've ever had was at Bishop's in Vancouver, about 25 years ago! I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but when a recipe features chocolate, it gets my attention. And this dessert captured my imagination, so much so, I remember it after all these years. It was Bishop's signature dessert, Death by Chocolate, a sinfully decadent dessert that looked like a murder scene — a crazed splash of raspberry coulis splattered across a pristine white plate, with a perfect slice of mouth wateringly delicious chocolate paté at the centre of the drama. 

John Bishop, of Bishop's in Vancouver - photo by J. Sancho

Bishop's is a Vancouver institution. For more than 20 years John Bishop has been at the forefront of showcasing British Columbia’s lush bounty of seasonal organic produce and promoting local ingredients and producers. One of the local producers that caught his eye early on was Lesley Stowe, owner of Lesley Stowe Fine Foods in Vancouver, who created Bishop's Death by Chocolate. Stowe had a catering business and much-loved gourmet food shop in Vancouver for many years, but decided to close the doors of the retail store in 2006 to focus solely on her latest creation, Raincoast Crisp Crackers.

Lesley Stowe - photo by Jonathan Cruz

Stowe also wrote a cookbook a few years back, filled with tried and true recipes from her shop and catering business, including her infamous Death by Chocolate Pate with Raspberry Splash. This recipe was a Lesley's signature dessert for years, which she sold to high end restaurants that didn’t have their own pastry chef’s at the time. One of the restaurants she approached was Bishop's, which had recently opened. John Bishop was interested, so in walked Death by Chocolate. The dessert even had the honour of being Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s favourite dessert, and rumour has it that he often ordered more than one piece when he dined at Bishop’s! 

Stowe's cookbook that features her recipe for Death by Chocolate!

Death by Chocolate
Serves 16
Recipe courtesy of Lesley Stowe

15 oz best-quality bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona or Callebaut work well)
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup icing sugar
6 tbsp Cointreau or Grand Marnier
Cocoa powder for dusting

Raspberry Splash:
10 oz frozen raspberries
3 tbsp berry sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Line a 9"x5" loaf pan with parchment paper. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in the top of a double boiler; add the cream and butter. Melt over medium heat, stirring until completely smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 1 minute, continuing to stir.

Whisk in the eggs yolks. Sift the icing sugar into the chocolate mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk in the Cointreau until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours to set or overnight.

To make the Raspberry Splash, purée the raspberries, berry sugar and lemon juice in a food processor. Pass the sauce through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Unmould the cake, removing paper. Dust the top with cocoa powder. Drizzle a large spoonful of Raspberry Splash on each plate. Using a hot, wet knife, slice cake and place on plates.

Cook's Note: As you can see from the recipe, it does make a lot, but it does freeze well, if there's any left!

2183 West 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1N7

Monday, September 19, 2011

Aunt Joyce's Peach Marmalade

My Aunt Joyce makes the best Peach Marmalade. She's been making it for years. The only problem is that she lives 2000 miles away, so the only way I'm able to enjoy a jar of her prized conserve, is to travel out west to Vancouver Island and stake my claim. That is, if there's any left! Traditionally orange marmalade is sweet-tart, but this recipe adds an extra measure of sweetness with the addition of fresh succulent peaches. When picked at their peak of ripeness, peaches are soft and so wonderfully sweet, and the blend of citrus and peach is truly addictive. Aunt Joyce's Peach Marmalade has an extra layer of depth with the addition of diced maraschino cherries and slivered almonds which add beautiful colour, texture and extraordinary flavour. Easy and delicious, you can preserve some of nature's bounty with this wonderful recipe — slather it on hot toast, flaky croissants, or homemade scones with plenty of Devonshire cream — but do it quickly, before all the peaches disappear for another year.

Aunt Joyce's Peach Marmalade
Makes 12 8-oz. Jars

3 oranges
1 cup water
9 cups white sugar
8 cups peaches, peeled and finely chopped
1 6 oz bottle Maraschino cherries
1 cup slivered blanched almonds

Cut the orange into slices and remove the seeds. Place in a food processor or dice finely. Place all the juice, peel and pith in a small saucepan with water; cover and simmer over low heat until the peel is tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Place the peel mixture, sugar and peaches in a large 6-quart saucepan. Drain the cherry juice into the saucepan, then cut the cherries into fine slices and reserve. Stir the mixture thoroughly. Place over high heat and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook uncovered, at a good simmer, until the marmalade thickens and the peaches are translucent, about 1 hour. Stir frequently, especially near the end of the cooking time. Add the cherries and almonds and cook for another 5 minutes.

Using a sterilized metal funnel and ladle, pour the jam into hot sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch (5 mm) of headspace. Cover with hot lids; screw on bands fingertip tight. Let cool, undisturbed, for an hour or so, until seals are set. To check for seal, ensure that lids curve downward — you'll hear a click as they do! Store in cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cooking with Jean - A Lifetime of Love & Laughter

Jean White
June 16, 1919 - July 7, 2011

Jean White, a dear friend, devoted Mother and adoring Grandmother, passed away on July 7, 2011 at the enviable age of 92. Over the ten years that I had the good fortune to know her, we would chat about life, family, friends, adventures and of course, recipes. Jean grew up in an era when families generally did all their own baking and made their own pickles and preserves. Jean excelled in each of these areas and her baking in particular, won her many devoted fans. Her homemade hors' d'oeuvres, fruit pies and lemon squares were always eagerly anticipated, quickly devoured and requested over, and over again. My friend Chris and I were delighted when Jean agreed, after much persuasion, to write a cookbook featuring many of her treasured recipes. 

The deal was: I would design Jean's cookbook and Chris would type up all of Jean's copious handwritten recipes and e-mail them to me. After a year of the three of us working together on this noble enterprise, Jean's cookbook was finally printed and delivered. Unfortunately, Jean passed away before she could see it, but her cookbook — Cooking with Jean White — lives on, for her friends, her family and the next generation. 

Jean had a recipe that was posted on her fridge for years. It was reproduced and framed for her memorial. It was a recipe, that in my heart, represents what Jean was all about...

- A Recipe for the Garden of your Daily Living -

Plant three rows of peas:
1. Peace of mind 
2. Peace of heart 
3. Peace of soul 

Plant three rows of squash:
1. Squash gossip 
2. Squash indifference 
3. Squash grumbling 
4. Squash selfishness

Plant four rows of lettuce:
1. Lettuce be faithful 
2. Lettuce be kind 
3. Lettuce be patient 
4. Lettuce really love one another 

No garden is without turnips:
1. Turnip for meetings 
2. Turnip for service 
3. Turnip to help one another 

To conclude, in our garden we must have thyme: 
1. Thyme for each other 
2. Thyme for family 
3. Thyme for friends 

Water freely with patience and cultivate with love. 

Of all of Jean's appetizers that she made over the years, there is one that was my favourite — her famous Sausage Rolls. I know it's often easier to just buy prepared hors' d'oeuvres these days, but Jean's recipe is simply the best. Just like her. 

Jean's Famous Sausage Rolls
Makes about 48

1 sheet puff pastry

16 breakfast link sausages

Preheat oven to 350°F. Boil sausages in a medium saucepan of boiling water and cook about 20 minutes. Remove the sausages from the water and let cool; cut them into thirds, and set aside. Unfold the puff pastry onto a lightly floured surface and roll into about a 12”x12” square, then cut into 4"x4" squares. Cut the pastry squares into triangles and roll each sausage, tucking in the ends, like a small package. Place them seam side down, on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Using a small sharp knife, make a couple of slits on the top of each sausage roll. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. These sausage rolls freeze very well. Simply reheat and serve with Dijon mustard.