Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stracciatella with Leeks, Spinach & Orzo

Nearly every culture has a soup based on chicken and egg. Sometimes it's in the form of egg and flour dumplings such as the Russian-German Knephla Soup, or the Algerian Djari Byad which sees egg yolks and lemon juice being whisked into chicken soup at the last moment. This dish is an example of how the Italians can also take the simplest of ingredients and put them together in a way that looks, smells and tastes absolutely delicious. Stracciatella is a rustic Roman egg-drop soup that's traditionally served with a handful of cheese, but in this modern version, spinach, orzo, chicken and sautéed leeks have also been added for a rich and satisfying twist on the Italian classic.

The name Stracciatella translates as 'torn apart' or 'rags' in Italian, which aptly describes the eggs, which look like tiny torn rags as they cook in the broth. This easy recipe is prepared by simply adding sautéed leeks, shredded chicken, grated pecorino, salt, pepper, parsley, nutmeg, and orzo to boiling chicken broth. Beaten egg is then added in a slow stream to produce the stracciatelle, or little shreds of cooked egg, producing a rich and satisfying dish from the simplest of ingredients. A hearty rustic soup, Stracciatella with Spinach, Leeks & Orzo is easy to prepare and makes a perfect lunch or first course.

Stracciatella with Spinach, Leeks & Orzo
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp olive oil
2 8 bone-in chicken breasts with skin on
1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 cup cooked or frozen spinach, chopped
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
6 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup orzo
2 large eggs
1/4 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and ground pepper. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the chicken, skin side down, and sauté until browned, about five minutes. Turn the chicken over and brown the other side, about another three minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate. Do not drain the oil from the pot.

Add the chopped leeks, parsley, spinach and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the leeks begin to soften, about three minutes. Pour in 6 cups of the chicken stock, reserving the last 1/2 cup for the eggs. Return the chicken to the pot, cover and let the soup simmer gently for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, beat two eggs with the remaining 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/4 cup of parmesan until smooth. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

After 20 minutes, add the orzo, cover and let cook about 7-8 minutes, until it's almost cooked through. Once the orzo is al dente, remove the chicken breasts from the soup, remove and discard the skin. Using two forks, pull the meat off the bone and shred into bite sized pieces. Return the chopped chicken to the soup and discard the bones.

Pour the beaten egg mixture into the soup, whisking vigorously. Turn the heat to medium-high and simmer, whisking occasionally for five minutes. Don’t be alarmed if the soup begins to look curdled, that’s how it looks as the eggs cook. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle into warmed soup bowl and garnish with grated parmesan and chopped Italian parsley.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wild Rice & Barley Salad with Dried Cranberries

With its delicate nutty flavour and sturdy texture, wild rice makes a delicious basis for this healthy high-fibre Wild Rice & Barley Salad. The addition of chickpeas, sliced green onions and toasted pine nuts tossed together with a tangy vinaigrette makes this salad a nutritional powerhouse. Mixed-grain salads deliver a great combination of flavours and textures as well as folate and vitamin E for a strong and healthy heart — very important for those cardio workouts. Adding beans to grains also creates the key combination of protein and carbs that helps muscles repair and refuel themselves, which makes this Wild Rice & Barley Salad with chickpeas and dried cranberries a nutritional powerhouse with heart-healthy goodness that's also rich with great flavour.

Wild Rice, Barley & Cranberry Salad
Serves 6-8

1 3/4 cups chicken broth 
1/2 cup uncooked brown and wild rice mix
1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley
3/4 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained 
1/3 cup golden raisins 
1/4 cup sliced green onions 
2 tbsp red wine vinegar 
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil 
1 tsp Dijon mustard 
1/4 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Place the chicken broth, rice and barley in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered for 5 minutes. Spoon rice mixture into a medium bowl. Add the chickpeas, raisins, green onions and cranberries.

Combine the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk. Pour over barley mixture and toss well. Cover and chill for two. Stir in the basil and pine nuts and serve at room temperature.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ottolenghi's Savoury Cauliflower Cake

Inspired by a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's food column, The New Vegetarian in Britain's Guardian newspaper, this spectacular dish is part of his ongoing campaign to give cauliflower some well-earned glory. Ottolenghi's light and wonderfully flavourful Cauliflower Cake is similar to a Spanish tortilla, but what makes it unusual is the addition of almost a dozen eggs, baking powder and the quantity of flour. The finished dish is rather like a firm omelet that slices like a cake, but instead of being humdrum, as baked egg dishes can often be, the addition of a whole head of cooked cauliflower, sautéed red onion, grated parmesan cheese, ground turmeric, minced rosemary, fresh basil — and Ottolenghi's ever-so-clever touch of baking it all in a springform pan lined with black sesame seeds — makes this a deliciously unique and completely addictive dish. Kept chilled, Ottolenghi's saffron-hued onion-speckled Cauliflower Cake tastes even better the next day. That is, if it lasts that long!

Cauliflower Cake Ottolenghi
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi

1 medium cauliflower, about 1.5 lb
1 large red onion, peeled

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary

10 medium or 8 large eggs

2 tbsp chopped basil

3/4 cup plain flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

2 cups grated parmesan or pecorino
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp fresh ground black pepper

2 tbsp butter, melted for greasing

2 tbsp black sesame seeds 

Heat the oven to 350°F. Break the cauliflower into medium-sized florets and put them in a pot with a teaspoon of salt, cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes until quite soft. Strain, and leave in the colander for a few minutes to cool and get rid of all the water.

While the cauliflower's cooking, prepare the batter. Halve the red onion and cut a few thin rings off the end of one side and set aside — these will go on top of the cake — coarsely chop the rest. Heat the oil in a pan and on a low heat, sauté the chopped onion and rosemary for eight minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down. Once cool, whisk in the eggs then stir in the basil.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, turmeric, cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and many grinds of black pepper, then add it to the egg mixture, whisking thoroughly to remove any lumps. Stir in the cauliflower very gently, so that most pieces remain whole.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan with parchment paper, and brush the sides generously with butter. Pour the sesame seeds into the pan and roll them around so that they stick to the sides, tipping out those that don't adhere. Pour in the cauliflower batter, arranging the reserved onion rings on top, and bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set.

To remove the cake, gently release the springform pan so that the seeded crust remains intact. Serve warm or at room temperature with a light salad.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wolfgang Puck & The 84th Academy Awards

For the 18th consecutive year, master chef Wolfgang Puck has been selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create the menu for the Governors Ball, the celebration immediately following the 84th Academy Awards presentation on Oscar Sunday, February 26, 2012. The menu, menu created by Wolfgang Puck with Chef Partner Matt Bencivenga and Executive Pastry Chef Sherry Yard, will feature more than fifty dishes, from one-bite hors d'oeuvres to small-plate entrees that will be passed throughout the evening. 

This years menu will be created by Wolfgang Puck and Chef Matt Bencivenga 
and will feature more than fifty dishes

This is a radical shift from tradition. Rather than a formal dinner at tables with place settings, this years approach is intended to create a more casual feel, with servers passing trays with small plates and one-bite hors d’oeuvres throughout the evening to Hollywoods glitterati. Signature favorites such as smoked Salmon on Oscar with caviar, Mini Kobe burgers, Braised Short Ribs, Chinous Lamb and Chicken Pot-Pie with Shaved Black Truffles — Barbara Streisand’s personal fave — will be served, along with crates of Moet & Chandon champagne.

Moet and Chandon Champagne is the exclusive Champagne for the Oscars

Working in a state-of-the-art kitchens adjacent to the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center, Puck will lead a team of chefs, pastry chefs and other culinary artists who will be responsible for the cooking, presentation and execution of the menu, featuring fresh local produce and sustainable seafoodFor the festivities, Puck and Bencivenga will be feeding 1,500 guests with a staff of 900. Oscar revelers will consume about 1,200 bottles of Moet & Chandon champagne, 1,200 pounds of organic chicken, 1,000 pounds of wild salmon, 1,200 kumamoto oysters, 200 pounds of sticky rice, 25 gallons of cocktail sauce and 350 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes. Puck says this is the biggest party of the year, but the best part for him is when it's over. "I can go sit down and have a good glass of wine." 

Wolfgang putting the finishing touches on the Smoked Salmon Oscar Flatbreads 
with Caviar and Crème Fraiche

Appetizers will include a selection of tray-passed hors d'oeuvres such as Smoked Salmon on Oscar Flatbread with Caviar and Crème Fraiche, Spicy Tuna Tartare in Sesame Miso Cones with Masago, Mini Kobe Cheeseburgers with Remoulade and Aged Cheddar, Pork Belly Dumplings with Soy and Ginger, Crab Cakes with Remoulade, Arrancini with Tomato, Basil and Parmesan, Tempura Shrimp with Wasabi Glaze, Vegetable Spring Rolls with Sweet Chili Sauce and Assorted Wolfgang Puck signature Pizzas.

Wolfgang Puck's Vegetable Spring Rolls with sweet chili sauce

Sweet Maryland Crab Cakes with Herb Remoulade

Spicy Tuna Tartare in Sesame Miso Cones with Masago

Mini Kobe Cheeseburger with Remoulade and Aged Cheddar

Potato Latke with Smoked Sturgeon and Horseradish

A battalion of small plates stations will also be positioned around the Governors Ball venue to serve more substantial fare including Chicken Pot Pie with Shaved Black Truffles and Roasted Vegetables, Beet Tortelloni with Goat Cheese and Toasted Hazelnuts, Gold Wrapped Baked Potato with Caviar and Crème Fraiche, Slow Braised Short Rib with Polenta and Romesco Sauce, Crab and Lobster Louie, Macaroni & Cheese with Aged Cheddar, Shanghai Lobster with Coconut Curry, Jasmine Rice and Pickled Ginger, Chinois Lamb with Cilantro Mint Vinaigrette as well as a spectacular Sushi Buffets featuring Sushi Rolls, Nigiri and Sashimi with Wasabi, Soy and Ginger, and enormous Shellfish table overflowing with fresh Prawns, Lobster, Stone Crab and Oysters with mustard and cocktail sauces.

Crab and Lobster Louie 

Chicken Pot Pie with Shaved Black Truffles

Miles of Sushi Rolls, Nigiri and Sashimi 

Desserts to be passed around will include sweet delights such as Almond, Orange-Brown Butter Cake with Blood Orange, Date Cake with Sticky Toffee Pudding and Toffee Orange Sauce, Chocolate in 3D, Golden Candy Apple, Banana Cream Pie with Candied Popcorn, Tart Tatin with Pretzel Pastry and Caramel Gelato Chocolate Mousse in Golden Egg Cups.

Small chocolate Oscar statues, a signature treat of Chef Wolfgang Puck, 
will be available at the Governors Ball following the Academy Awards ceremony

There will be multiple dessert tables on show with offerings such as Raspberry Rose Eclairs, Strawberry Shortcake Push-Up Pops, Red Hot Macaroons, Star Shortbread with Silver Sugar, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pops, Brown Sugar, Lemon Meringue Cones, Chocolate Pudding Push-up Pops, and Long Stem Strawberries.

Executive Pastry Chef Sherry Yard and Wolfgang Puck 
with their Oscar-worthy culinary treats

What would a party be without Chocolate Fountains with farmers market Long Stem Strawberries? Not to mention miles of Chocolate Buffets with Chocolate Paninis, Triple Chocolate Cupcakes, Warm Coulent Souffle Cakes, Chocolate Dobos Torte, Earl Grey Tea Truffles, White Chocolate Coconut Rum Truffles, Milk Chocolate Caramel Truffles, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Triple Chocolate, Toffee Crunch Cookies, Chocolate Coffee Cups and to top it off — Executive Pastry Chef Sherry Yard's 24 Karat Chocolate Oscars made with edible gold dust. "There’s a special mold that we pour in and we airbrush them with 24k gold. We start to mold the chocolate two weeks in advance, and make about 5,500 chocolate Oscars," she said. "No one leaves without an chocolate Oscar!"

Wolfgang Puck’s Mini Cheese Burgers with Remoulade & Aged Cheddar 
Makes 12 mini burgers

3/4 lb ground beef
1/4 tsp Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 oz aged cheddar cheese, sliced
6 slices Brioche bread, punched out with a 2-inch ring cutter or 12 mini buns
Arugula leaves
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
3 cornichons, sliced

Remoulade Sauce:
2 cups heavy cream
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3/4 cup of brunoise of red onion
1/2 cup of brunoise of red bell pepper
1/2 cup of brunoise of yellow bell pepper

For the remoulade sauce, combine the heavy cream, garlic, rosemary and paprika in a medium saucepan, and reduce by half. Allow to cool to room temperature. In a sauté pan, heat the peanut oil. Sweat the onions, red and yellow bell pepper until glossy. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat a grill or grill pan. Put the ground beef in a bowl and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix together with your hands to combine. Take about 2 tablespoons of the ground beef and roll it in the palm of your hand like you are making meatballs. Flatten the top slightly and put the mini burger patties on a side plate. Drizzle the burgers with oil and season the tops with salt and pepper. Turn the burgers over and season the other side.

Place the burgers on the hot grill. Cook for 3 minutes, then turn them over with tongs. Put about 1/2 ounce of aged cheddar cheese on top of the burgers, allowing it to melt. While that’s cooking, put the brioche circles or mini buns on the grill. Let them toast slightly on both sides, about 2 minutes total time.

To put the burgers together: Put the toasted brioche circles or bun halves on a platter. Top each with a small spoonful of Remoulade. Put the burger on top, cheese side up, followed by an arugula leaf, a slice of tomato and a slice of cornichon. Top with other half of the brioche or buns, and secure with a decorative pick.

Blini with Smoked Salmon & Caviar
Serves 6

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp chopped fresh chives
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup peeled, steamed, and mashed potato

Dill Crème Fraiche:
1 1/2 cups crème fraiche
6 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp black pepper

For Assembly:
2 oz thinly sliced smoked salmon
3 tbsp salmon roe or black caviar
3 tbsp daikon sprouts
3 tbsp micro greens or fresh dill
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the Dill Creme Fraiche: In a medium mixing bowl, stir together all of the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

For the Blini: In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, fresh herbs, and salt. Stir in the buttermilk, milk, and egg. Fold in the melted butter and the mashed taro. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

To make the blini, heat a nonstick griddle or skillet over medium heat. Spoon the batter onto the griddle 2 tablespoons at a time to form 3-inch pancakes and cook them until golden, 1 to 2 minutes per side, flipping them over when bubbles appear on the top. You should have a total of 16 blini.

Place the blini on a serving platter. Spread them with the crème fraiche, then drape smoked salmon over each pancake. Garnish with roe or caviar, daikon sprouts, micro greens or fresh dill, then drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Chinois Grilled Lamb Chops with Cilantro Mint Vinaigrette
Serves 4

2 racks of lamb, trimmed and cut into individual chops
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup soy sauce
1 cup mirin
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 cups chopped scallions
1 tbsp dried red chile flakes

Cilantro Mint Vinaigrette:
1 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint, cilantro and parsley
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp chopped ginger
1/4 tsp chili oil

In a bowl, mix together all of the marinade ingredients. Then in a large shallow dish, pour the marinade over the lamb chops and refrigerate, covered for 1 hour. While the lamb chops are marinating, prepare the vinaigrette by combining all of the ingredients in a blender, except the oil, and blend until smooth. Slowly add peanut oil and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat grill. Remove the lamb chops from the marinade and place them on a hot grill. Grill medium rare, about 3 minutes each side; or sauté them in a skillet over high heat for about 2 minutes on each side. Cook the chops in several batches if necessary, but don’t crowd the pan.

Serve on a platter, or individual appetizer bowls, garnished with a spinach or basil leaf and cilantro mint vinaigrette.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Red Beet & Goat Cheese Napoleons with Hazelnuts

This gorgeous stacked salad has become a standard at Wolfgang Puck's famed restaurant Spago, in Los Angeles. Rounds of brilliant red beets layered with slices of white goat cheese make up one of the most striking and elegant appetizers they serve. The earthy beets and pungent cheese ask for just a drizzle of tangy vinaigrette, a sprinkling of toasted nuts and some microgreens for colour. A healthy and delicious recipe, this stunning appetizer tastes incredible and is guaranteed to impress all of your friends. The key is to purchase beets that are all about the same size, and to save time, the beets can be roasted beforehand as well as preparing the two vinaigrettes. 

Red Beet & Goat Cheese Napoleons with Hazelnut Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Wolfgang Puck + photo Susan Hathaway 

3 lb large (at least 3" in diameter) yellow or red beets, washed and trimmed
8 oz rice wine vinegar
8 oz granulated sugar
6 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 8 oz log herbed Goat Cheese, cut into eight round slices
3 cups mixed baby lettuces, washed and dried
1/2 cup Spago House Dressing
1/2 cup Citrus Hazelnut Vinaigrette
4 tbsp toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and bake for 60-90 minutes, depending on their size. To check if they're done, gently insert a skewer into a beet. The skewer should slide through easily. Remove the beets from the oven, allow to cool a bit, and then remove from the foil, and peel.

Cut each beet into 1/4-inch thick round slices, from top to bottom. Then using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut each slice with a 3-inch round cookie cutter. You'll need 10 rounds. Save trimmings for another use.

In a sauté pan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil. Lower to a simmer and poach beets one minute on each side. With a slotted spatula, remove and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

When ready to assemble, heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan. Arrange the slices of herbed Goat Cheese in the pan and warm slightly, turning them with a small spatula just to warm both sides. This has to be done quickly or the cheese will melt.

Herbed Goat Cheese is cut into eight round slices

To assemble the napoleons, place 1 of the beet rounds on a firm, flat surface and begin to layer. Top with a slice of goat cheese, then another beet round, a second slice of cheese, another beet round, a third slice of cheese and a final layer of beet round. Continue until you have five layers of beets and four layers of cheese. Carefully cut through layers, dividing into three wedges. Repeat with the remaining beets and cheese. Carefully cut through layers with a very sharp knife, dividing into 4 wedges.

To serve, arrange 3 of the wedges, pointed ends facing out, on a long narrow white porcelain plates. Toss the baby lettuces with the Spago House Dressing and mound half of the lettuces on top of each arranged napoleon. Drizzle one half of the Citrus Hazelnut Vinaigrette around each mound. Sprinkle toasted nuts and reserved diced beets on top of drizzled vinaigrette. This dish should be served immediately, or else the beets will really start to bleed into the goat cheese — it'll taste great though!

Citrus Hazelnut Vinaigrette
Makes 1 1/3 cups

1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/3 cup hazelnut oil
1/3 cup olive oil

In a medium saucepan, bring orange juice to a boil. Lower to a simmer and reduce until only 1/3 cup remains. Cool to room temperature. In a medium bowl, combine orange juice, shallot, thyme, vinegar and orange zest. Slowly whisk in both oils until thick and emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until needed.

Spago House Dressing
Makes 1 cup

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sherry wine or red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the balsamic and sherry or red wine vinegars, the Dijon mustard, minced shallot and minced thyme. Slowly whisk in the oils and when emulsified, season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in a covered container. It'll keep for 3-4 weeks. When ready to use, whisk again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crisp Potato Galette with Smoked Salmon & Dill Crème

Although Wolfgang Puck is best known for putting smoked salmon, caviar and dill-flecked crème fraîche on his designer pizzas, he also loves a trio of special toppings on his Crispy Potato Pancakes, one of the dishes that he featured at the star-studded 2010 Governors Ball — the dinner celebration that takes place each year immediately following the Academy Awards. "The Governors Ball is a celebration of artistry and achieving your dreams," says Puck. "Our art is on the plate for everyone to savour and enjoy. We cast star-quality ingredients and keep the focus on flavour." A wonderfully decadent dish, Crispy Potato Galette with Smoked Salmon & Dill Crème makes a sumptuous brunch dish, light entrée or elegant appetizer for any occasion, but for Hollywood's elite, Puck garnished the dish with mixed baby greens, chopped capers and edible baby nasturtiums, making this dish a truly Oscar worthy culinary performance.

Crispy Potato Galette with Smoked Salmon, Dill Cream & Baby Greens
Serves 4
Recipe and photo courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 small shallot, minced
2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
2 tsp lemon juice, plus more for brushing
1 lb baking potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, peeled
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup vegetable cooking oil
3 tbsp butter
1/2 pound smoked salmon or gravlax

For garnish:
1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped 
3 cups of baby micro greens
Edible flowers, such as nasturtiums 

In a small bowl, stir together the crème fraîche, shallot, dill, chives and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk the mixture until thickened, about 30 seconds. Cover and chill.

Using the large holes of a box grater, or the grating disk on a food processor, shred the potatoes into a mixing bowl, then grate in the onion. Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined bowl, and twisting the cloth around it, squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Then transfer to another bowl. Add the egg, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and mix with a fork until well blended.

Heat some vegetable oil and a knob or two of butter in a large, heavy skillet until it ripples and feels quite hot. With a metal tablespoon, scoop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil, patting down the mixture with an offset spatula to form an evenly thin pancake about 3 inches in diameter. For appetizers, just make the pancakes more bite-size. Add more spoonfuls, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook the pancakes until they're crispy and golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning them over carefully with a slotted metal spatula. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towels to drain. Continue with the remaining mixture. If not serving right away, allow the galettes to cool completely. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400°F, place the potatoes on a baking sheet and heat in the oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.

To serve, transfer the galettes to a platter or individual serving plates. Spoon a small dollop of the crème fraîche mixture onto each pancake and top with generous folds of smoked salmon. A little secret, Puck lightly dabs the salmon with some oil and lemon juice to make them glisten! Garnish with a small mound of baby greens and a sprinkling of small edible flowers and chopped capers over the dish and around the plate. Serve immediately.

WINE SUGGESTION: These crisp potato pancakes hark back to Puck's Austrian heritage, so serving them with an Austrian dry Riesling or even a bottle of 'bubbly' feels quite appropriate!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

c5 Restaurant // Lounge at the ROM

Tucked up under the pointy eaves of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at The Royal Ontario Museum is c5, which is short for Crystal Five, a reference to the restaurant’s location on the fifth floor of the ROM and also being at the top of the fifth crystal with soaring views over the historic west wing of the Museum. Designed by famed architect Daniel Libeskind, the 175,000 sq. ft. aluminum and glass covered addition is composed of five interlocking, self-supporting assymetrical structures, and the space is striking. With its soaring peaked ceiling, modern décor, angular walls and bright expanse of windows, c5's interior reflects the sophisticated finishes and contemporary architecture of Daniel Libeskind's cutting-edge aesthetic.

c5s spacious interior and modern finishes provide a striking contrast 
to the crystal's angular architectural lines

The restaurant's award-winning interior design, created by II by IV Design Associates, achieves a calm spare elegance to the space with an absence of right angles which result in quiet, private nooks and intimate corners. Veering planes and dramatic windows slash through the space creating dramatic lighting effects and offering fabulous panoramic views of the Toronto skyline from the top of the ROM crystal, and Liza’s Garden, the Museum’s recently unveiled 'green roof' garden designed by Plant Architect Inc. The restaurant's elegant interior, accented with soft caramel leather and well-spaced tables, is set very simply with classic modern wine stems and sleek contemporary flatware, creating a modern, comfortable and inviting ambience.

Crystal Five Bistro Bar

C5's glass sculpture installation designed by artist Jeff Goodman

Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, previously from Holt’s Café, recently took over as executive chef of c5 from Ted Corrado, who’d been the executive chef since the restaurant opened. "My style is simple, but classic", states Tomaszeski. "I believe the best meals use everyday ingredients to create beautifully presented dishes that are uncomplicated, accessible and appealing to everyone." Tomaszeski’s new menu includes a few Holt's-inspired favourites such as Truffled Potato Chips with fleur de sel and chives, Poached Pear Salad, Chicken Pot Pie and his signature CT Burger. New additions to his repertoire include delicious Crispy Vegetable Fritters, Mushroom & Wilted Spinach Pappardelle with cipollini onions and pecorino with optional topping of Duck Confit, Steak Frites and Lobster BLT Salad, the most expensive item on the menu at $24. 

c5's Mayan inspired menu

In keeping with the ROM's current exhibition Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World, on until early April, c5 is offering a Maya-themed menu fusing the flavours of Mexico and Central America, such as Chile Rellenos con Pollo, Empanadas de Carnitas and Flan de Chocolate. As tasty as it sounded, we decided on selecting some dishes from Chef Tomaszeski's new c5 luncheon menu, which included Crispy Vegetable Fritters served with a fragrant coconut ginger sauce which was wonderfully light and delicate, and very similar to an Indian bhaji. Made with chopped onion, squash and carrot blended with a lovely light turmeric batter and a sprinkling of sea salt, this dish was very tasty and well worth ordering again.

Crispy Vegetable Fritters with a coconut ginger chutney

We followed with the ROM Pot Pie made with free range chicken and Ontario root vegetables topped with a buttery dome of puff pastry and a nicely composed salad, and c5's Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Sandwich with sweet caramelized onions, tangy chevre, peppery arugula and a dollop of apple butter, attractively grilled in a panini press with a crisp buttery exterior and served with a cone of home made frites.

ROM Chicken Pot Pie made with free range chicken, Ontario root vegetables and salad

Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Sandwich with caramelized onions, chevre, arugula 
and apple butter, and served with house made frites

I remember the glory days when Jamie Kennedy was culinary king for nine outstanding years at JK-ROM, which closed in 2003, and since then, there's been a singular lack of fine dining at the museum. With the arrival c5, it looked like the future was bright again, and with a few stumbles, it's pretty good but not as good as it could be, given Tomaszeski's pedigree with having been Executive Chef at Holt's for almost ten years. Rather than being "a superlative gastronomic experience" as the website declares, c5 is in fact a casual family-friendly venue which "specializes in timeless tastes, appealing to visitors of all ages", which was particularly true the day we went — it was Family Day! Little munchkins were running all over the place; certainly not the dining experience we were hoping for. Fortunately, our server Marryn's sunny disposition, friendly manner and courteous service more than made up for the noisy distractions.

A large vase of Cherry Blossoms sit proudly in the centre of the restaurant

The restaurant may also be finding their stride, having had their dining hours slashed, serving luncheon only, from 11am to 3pm seven days a week, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Also, c5 is also no longer open for dinner, which is a shame because the interior is stunning and in the evening it would be absolutely magical. Good news is that there are plans afoot to extend c5's dining outdoors onto the rooftop of Liza's Garden, over the historic west wing of the Museum, which would be glorious once the warmer weather returns.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mardi Gras: Crawfish Etouffée & Hushpuppies

This week thousands of people will be descending on New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, with its parties, parades and downright debauchery. Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, is the annual festival of excess which for many, is the last chance to indulge before Ash Wednesday starts, the sober six week period of abstinence that comes with Lent. During this time many will give up a favourite food, drink, or bad habit, but until then the drinks will flow and the partying will continue as residents of New Orleans famously celebrate Mardi Gras into the wee hours of the morning.

Chef Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans

Although the crowds may come to 'Nawlins' for the revelry, they stay and often return for the city's famous Cajun and Creole cuisine. A blend of French, Spanish, African and Caribbean influences, it's said to be the oldest culinary culture in the USA. One of the most celebrated restaurants in New Orleans is K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, home to Cajun Chef Paul Prudhomme, who almost single handedly propelled the distinctive cuisine of his native Louisiana into the international spotlight, serving classic Louisiana foods and haute Cajun dishes like Seafood Gumbo with Andouille Smoked Sausage, Shrimp Creole, Turtle Soup, Chicken and Tasso Jambalaya, Cajun "Popcorn", Blackened Prime Rib, Sweet Potato Pecan Pie, and classic Crawfish Etouffée. 

K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in the old French Quarter 

The differences between Cajun and Creole foods are hotly debated, and while both share similar spices and flavourings, Creole food is considered to be more elegant, refined and sophisticated, whereas Cajun food is more rustic and highly seasoned. "People often ask me what the difference is between Cajun and Creole cooking. Both are Louisiana born, with French roots, but Cajun food began in Southern France, moved on to Nova Scotia and then came to Louisiana", explains Chef Paul. "The Acadians adapted their dishes to use local ingredients that grew wild in the area: bay leaves, filé powder and hot peppers such as cayenne, Tabasco and banana peppers. But Creole food began in New Orleans, a fusion of French, Spanish, Italian, American Indian and African influences. Seven flags have flown over New Orleans, and every time a new country took over, the old government would leave and their cooks would stay behind. They'd then incorporate their own way of cooking into the cuisines of their new employers, and in this way, Creole food was created". 

Chef Paul Prudhomme's first cookbook has been called 
the best Louisiana regional American cookbook ever published

One of Chef Paul's most famous dishes is Crawfish Etouffée, which is found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine. A fragrant combination of fresh Louisiana crawfish smothered in a brown gravy made with a rich seafood stock, browned flour, onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic and spicy seasonings, the dish is usually served with rice and sometimes an order of hush puppies. Having introduced the world to the rich complex flavours of New Orleans cooking, Chef Paul's cookbooks allow us all to enjoy some of the best regional dishes that Louisiana has to offer, and what better way to celebrate Mardi Gras, than with one Chef Paul's personal recipes — his classic Crawfish Etouffée.

Crawfish Etouffée
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Chef Paul Prudhomme

2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1⁄2 tsp dried thyme
3⁄4 cup canola oil
3⁄4 cup flour, sifted
1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄4 cup finely chopped celery
1⁄4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
3 cups seafood or chicken broth
12 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed
2 lbs peeled crawfish tails or peeled medium shrimp 
1 cup finely chopped scallions
Cooked white or yellow rice, for serving

In a small bowl, combine salt, cayenne, white pepper, black pepper, basil, and thyme, and set aside. In a large pot, or non-stick skillet, heat oil over high heat until it just begins to smoke. Sprinkle in flour, whisking constantly, and cook for 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, whisking constantly, until the roux is the color of dark chocolate, about 30 minutes. Add onions and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until onions soften, about 5 more minutes. Remove pot from the heat and stir in 1 tbsp of the reserved spice mixture, along with the celery and bell peppers. Continue stirring until the roux has cooled and darkened slightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Gradually add the roux and whisk until incorporated. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt 8 tbsp butter over medium-high heat. Stir in crawfish tails and scallions and cook, about 1 minute. Add remaining spice mixture and reserved broth mixture, along with remaining broth and butter, and stir the pan to combine until glossy. Remove the pan from heat and serve the étouffée with rice and hushpuppies.

Makes 24-30

3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp finely minced white onion
1 tbsp finely minced scallion
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp melted butter
1 large egg
vegetable oil for frying

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the minced scallions and onion to the fry mixture and stir to combine. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until it forms a lumpy dough. Add in the melted butter and the egg and mix together thoroughly, until it resembles a stiff batter. Using a deep pot, preheat oil for frying to about 350°F.

Using a melon baller or spoon, drop the batter, one tablespoon at a time into the hot oil, and fry until golden brown, turning the hushpuppies during the cooking process. Cook in small batches to maintain the oil temperature. Dip the spoon in a glass of water after each hushpuppy is dropped into the oil. Drain briefly on paper towels, and serve hot with Crawfish Etouffée.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Monkfish with Cauliflower Purée & Wilted Spinach

Poor man's lobster. That's how this fabulous fish is often described. The meat from the Monkfish tail is sweet, delicate and quite firm, and has a mild shellfish flavour because crustaceans are in fact, a large part of the monkfish's diet. Often served as a whole filet, Pan Fried Monkfish Medallions are an elegant way to prepare this delicious misunderstood fish. Served on a pillow of puréed cauliflower and a nest of wilted spinach, the medallions are dredged in some seasoned flour, and quickly pan fried in a little olive oil and butter. Garnished with a drizzle of tangy Lemon Caper Butter Sauce, this easy recipe is big on flavour, relatively low in calories and makes an elegant and refined entrée.

Pan Fried Monkfish Medallions with Cauliflower Purée & Wilted Spinach
Serves 2

Cauliflower Purée:

1 head of cauliflower
1/4 tsp salt & white pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp whole milk or cream

Lemon Caper Butter Sauce:
4 tbsp butter
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 lemon, zested
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and minced

1 Monkfish tail
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt and white pepper to taste
1 bunch of fresh baby spinach

Break the cauliflower into florets and steam until very tender, about 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, place the cauliflower in a cuisineart blender with butter, salt and pepper, and process until very smooth. Add 1 tbsp of milk or cream to loosen the purée, if necessary. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat until required.

For the sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the juice of half a lemon, zest of one lemon, minced capers and chopped parsley, and stir to combine. Set aside and cover, over low heat.

In a large pot, cook the spinach with a little water until just wilted. Let the water cook off, then add 1 tbsp of butter, a little salt and white pepper, and allow the spinach and warm through.

Rinse monkfish and pat dry with paper towels. Cut each fillet crosswise into 1/2-inch thick medallions. Dredge the fish in a seasoned flour mixture of flour, paprika, salt and pepper, coating all sides and shaking off the excess. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat-high and cook the monkfish medallions until lightly browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and allow to rest in a warm place, or tent under foil until ready.

To plate the dish, spread 2 cups of cauliflower purée into the centre of each warmed dinner plate, shaped into a long puddle. Top the purée with wilted spinach, then place the monkfish medallions overtop. Garnish with a light drizzle of lemon caper butter sauce, and finish with a final flourish of sauce around the perimeter of the plate. Serve immediately.