Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Steamed Mussels with Curried Coconut Broth

This tropical twist on the French classic Moules Marinières serves up briny mussels in a tangy coconut broth enhanced with ginger, lime leaves, lemongrass, shallots and red curry paste. Light and aromatic with plenty of flavourful Thai-inspired broth, this is a gorgeous starter or light summer supper, delicious served with a loaf of crusty bread and glass of chilled Rosé.

Garlic, shallots, lemongrass and lime leaves sautéed in a little vegetable oil

Add a cup of coconut milk and 2 tbsp of red curry paste

Steamed Mussels with Curried Coconut Broth & Cilantro
Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 stalk lemon grass, white part only, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/8 cup red curry paste
3 lb cultivated mussels, scrubbed
3 scallions, white and light green part, thinly sliced
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper

In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, shallots, ginger, lime leaves and lemongrass, if using, and the garlic and cook over medium-low heat, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and curry paste and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, cover tightly, and steam them over medium heat, transferring them with tongs to a bowl as they open, about 6 minutes total. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Add the ime juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Transfer the mussels to a large serving bowl, ladle the sauce over them and garnish with scallions and cilantro. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mom's Summer Peach Crisp

A luscious peach crisp is one of my favourite ways to celebrate sweet ripe peaches when they're at their best in mid to late summer. This recipe is an adaptation of my Mom's famous Peach Crisp, which like most family recipes, hold a special place in my heart. My Mom isn't a baker as such, but she has mastered some desserts really well, like her Nanaimo Squares and wonderful Fruit Crisps. My two favourite 'Crisps' are Mom's Peach Crisp and also her Strawberry Rhubarb. Just thinking about them makes my cheeks tingle. This Peach Crisp topping is a sweet nutty mx of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, flour and mixed nuts, and bakes into a buttery and nutty crisp crumble. Mom's Peach Crisp can be made any time of the year, but it tastes best when the peaches are at their peak.

Mom's Famous Peach Crisp
Serves 8

8 peaches
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel and slice peaches, then place in an 8" buttered baking dish. For the topping, in a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. Pour melted butter over mixture and mix well. Sprinkle the topping over the peaches and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the fruit is cooked and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm or cold with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Salmon Mousse with Sour Cream, Celery & Dill

This smooth and creamy Salmon Mousse looks especially festive when it's unmolded and garnished with sliced lemon, dill and an olive slice for the eye! Okay, maybe it's a little retro, but fish molds seem to have made a real comeback. And because it's made without whipping cream or mayonnaise, it's low in fat and calories, and the flavour is unbeatable.

Simply mix together some chopped dill, minced onion, lemon juice, yoghurt and sour cream with some dissolved gelatin, and chill until almost set; then combine it with two cans of sockeye salmon and pour into any type of mold you prefer. For a cocktail party, a traditional fish-shaped mold or small terrine works very well, but also small single serving ramekins make an elegant choice for personal Salmon Mousse appetizers, which can be served to guests nestled on a small bed of mixed greens, or served with little toast points. Light and delicious, this is a refreshing low-fat starter that requires little effort, and makes a tasty appetizer for a dinner party or Sunday brunch with friends.

Salmon Mousse with Dill
Serves 10-12

1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
1/2 cup water or clam juice
2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
2 tbsp yellow onion, grated
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
dash of Tabasco sauce
3/4 cup plain 2% yoghurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
2 8 oz/220g cans sockeye salmon

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over cold water or clam juice; let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Warm over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Stir in dill, onion, lemon juice, salt, Tabasco sauce, sour cream, yogurt and celery. Refrigerate until mixture begins to set. Remove the skin from the salmon, but not the bones. They’re an excellent source of calcium. Mash the salmon with a fork or process in a food processor. Mix into gelatin mixture. Spoon into a 4-cup fish mold, or similar. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. To serve, unmold onto a serving platter and surround with crackers or fresh cut vegetables.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lamb Chermoula: A Sensational Summer Treat

Grilled Lamb Chermoula is one of my favourite summer recipes. Fabulously fragrant and wonderfully aromatic, it's best grilled on the barbeque, making it a perfect dish for the warm summer months. 'Chermoula' is a classic marinade used in Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking, and is made using a robust mixture of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, paprika and cayenne. The spices are then tossed with a well-trimmed rack of lamb that has been cut into single or double chops, mixed together with a handful of garlic, some olive oil and a handful of fresh cilantro. It's that easy.

Rack of lamb chops in chermoula marinade

For the best results, the lamb should marinate for a couple of hours, or even overnight before cooking, to let the lamb become infused with the flavourful marinade. This recipe works really well with chicken and pork, and can also be used with fish, seafood and root vegetables. But it's with lamb that the Chermoula spices truly shine. Vibrant and full of flavour, this recipe is excellent served with a big bowl of tzatziki, which isn't very Moroccan, but it is delicious!

Lamb Chermoula
Serves 4-6

1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
2 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
salt and pepper
2 8-rib racks of lamb
4 cups chopped cilantro

Using a heavy knife, cut both racks of lamb into single or double chops, as desired, and set aside. Break the cinnamon into small pieces and place in a food processor with the coriander seeds, cumin, cloves, paprika and cayenne and grind 2-3 minutes. In a large bowl, stir together the chopped garlic and olive oil, then add the lamb and toss to coat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add the spice mixture. Toss it all together to ensure the lamb is thoroughly coated with all the spices. Then add the cilantro, and give it all a final toss to coat. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill at least 2 hours or even overnight — I even marinate it all in a big plastic baggie which makes storing it in the fridge very easy and saves on clean up! When ready, place the lamb on a hot barbecue and cook until the chops are grilled evenly on both sides. Serve on a big platter with a bowl of tzatziki on the side.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Bymark Burger with Brie de Meaux & Truffle Aïoli

Celebrated chef Mark McEwan scandalized Torontonians a number of years ago by making one of Canada's most expensive, and famous $35 truffled Bymark Burger. That was before words like 'grass-fed,' 'heritage' and 'dry-aged' entered into the burger lexicon. The city is now crammed with craft burgers, and carnivores no longer flinch at steep price tags. Competitive chefs bring in whole cows from nearby farms, bake their own buns, smoke their own bacon, replace ketchup with tomato chutney and source the most pungent cheeses they can get their hands on.

Chef McEwan's burger is constructed from premium steak rather than the customary second rate cuts. And that’s what it tastes like – great steak – which is why it's seasoned and dressed up with such respect. It all adds up to the finest burger I've ever enjoyed...anywhere. If you can't make it to Bymark, you can always create your own Bymark Burger using Chef McEwan's secret recipe and crown this summer's grilling season with the ultimate in burgerdom. 

The Bymark Burger
Serves 4

2 lb PEI grass-fed, or USDA Prime beef strip loin, medium ground
4 premium quality hamburger buns (ACE Bakery)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 lb King Oyster mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tbsp olive oil 

1/4 lb aged Brie de Meaux, sliced cold into eight 1/4-inch thick slices
8 leaves red leaf lettuce
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, for garnish 

Truffle oil, to taste 

Truffle Aïoli:
1 cup canola oil
1 large egg yolk
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp white truffle paste
Salt and pepper to taste

For the aïoli, add the egg yolk to a food processor then slowly drizzle in the oil until a mayonnaise-like consistency is achieved. Then add the remaining ingredients while the processor is running. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Form the burgers into 4 1-inch thick patties, using just the ground beef, then rub them with olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper.

Preheat an outdoor barbecue to high and lightly oil the hot side of the grill. Sear the burgers well on both sides, then relocate them to the more temperate side of grill until they achieve the preferred level of doneness, about 12 minutes for medium-rare. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter and once they've softened, mark them on the grill. Grill the buns and butter them lightly. Just before the burgers are complete, top each patty with Brie de Meaux, and allow to melt slightly.

To assemble, spread about a tablespoon of aïoli on the bottom of each bun. Add the lettuce, then the burgers, and top with the mushrooms, a few drops of truffle oil, and a sprig of basil. Top the burgers with top bun halves and allow to rest for six or seven minutes, roughly half their cooking time. Serve each burger with a ramekin of aïoli, and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Venezuelan Arepas Reina Pepiada & Alfajores

Simón Bolívar was one of the most important leaders of Spanish America's successful struggle for independence. Often referred to as a hero, he's credited with contributing decisively to the independence of the present-day countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia. His political legacy has been massive and he's a very important figure in South American political history. Born on July 24, 1783, this day is celebrated as Simón Bolívar Day and is an official holiday in Ecuador and Venezuela. What better way to mark today than with a Venezuelan inspired feast, or 'festeja' — Buen provecho!

Simón Bolívar

Spanish colonists influenced Venezuela’s cuisine, as they did the food of many South American countries. Yet the country’s geographic diversity sets its food apart from that of the rest of the continent. Its proximity to the Caribbean, for example, results in many tropical ingredients being incorporated with the corn, peppers, tomatoes, and other produce used by local cooks. This blend of cultural influences and ingredients makes Venezuelan fare unique. 

Chef Lorena Garcia

Take the arepa, a signature dish of both Venezuela and Colombia, and a specialty of celebrity Chef Lorena Garcia. Born in Venezuela, Chef Garcia specializes in authentic Latin cuisine infused with international influences, and is adored by viewers around the world for her charismatic personality and contagious enthusiasm. Lorena is the chef owner of Food Café and Elements Tierra restaurants, both located in Miami’s Design District, in addition to being the chef spokesperson for Nestlé. She has also joined the fight against childhood obesity with the program "Big Chef, Little Chef," which promotes healthy eating to reduce the health crisis among children.

Lorena Garcia's New Latin Classics cookbook

These flat corn cakes can be baked, sautéed, or grilled. Simple to prepare, arepas can be enjoyed plain as a snack or split open and filled with beans, vegetables, and flavourful cheeses for an entrée. Some versions offer these baked cakes topped with savoury pulled pork or chicken. Grated cheese can also often mixed into the arepa dough for added flavour, with the dough sometimes serves double duty as Venezuelan dumplings. To make a Nuevo Latino version of the traditional recipe, Chef Garcia bakes arepas rather than deep-frying them, for a healthier version of this Venezuelan classic.

Arepas Reina Pepiada

Arepa with Shredded Chicken and Avocado
Makes 16 Arepas
Recipe and photo courtesy: Chef Lorena Garcia

Reina Pepiada is basically an arepa, or corn cake, stuffed with a mixture of shredded chicken, mayonnaise and avocado.

For the arepas:
2 cups Masarepa corn flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp vegetable oil

For the reina pepiada:
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Hass avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and finely diced

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together the corn flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. Whisk the butter into 21/2 cups of water, then add it to the flour mixture, stirring until well combined. The dough will start out loose but the flour quickly absorbs the liquid. Start to knead the dough in the bowl and once it becomes very soft and doesn’t stick to your hands, after about 8 minutes, the dough is ready to be shaped. If, while kneading, the dough seems too stiff and breaks apart, add a few tablespoons of hot water; if it is too sticky, add a little more corn flour.

Divide the dough into 16 equal balls and flatten each between your palms into a 3 1/2- to 4- inch patty that’s about 1/3 inch thick. For a less rustic-looking arepa, press the arepa into a disk using a flat-bottomed plate; you can wet your hands with a little water if the dough is slightly sticky.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add 3 or 4 arepas to the pan, depending on how big your pan is. The arepas should sizzle as they hit the skillet. Cook the arepas until they’re golden and have a nice crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip them and brown the other side for an additional 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the arepas to a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil if the pan is dry, and the remaining arepa dough disks — you’ll probably need to use two baking sheets to bake the arepas.

Bake the arepas until they puff up, 20 to 30 minutes, switching the pans so the top baking sheet is on the bottom and the bottom moves up to the top midway through cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before serving with butter, cream cheese, queso fresco, or mozzarella.

Place the chicken in a large bowl. Add the onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cilantro and salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Gently stir in the avocado, taste, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Slice a slit into the top edge of each arepa and gently wiggle a paring knife into the arepa, creating a pocket. Divide the chicken salad among the arepas and serve. 

Spinach & Goat Cheese Empanadas
Makes 40 empanadas

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp of baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup shortening, melted
1 cup warm milk
1 large egg, beaten

2 cups spinach, scalded
1 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg beaten with water, for an egg wash

In a food processor, place all ingredients for the filling, leave aside. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add shortening, milk and eggs. Stir with a fork until dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into 40 pieces and form balls. Spend each ball on a floured surface and form a circle of 5 inches. 

Preheat oven to 400°F.

To assemble, place a spoonful of filling in center of each circle, moisten the edges with water and fold in half. Seal the edges by pushing them with a fork. Place the patties on a parchment lined baking sheet. Varnish pies with the beaten egg with water and bake until well browned. Serve warm.

Alfajores, buttery sweet shortbreads from Latin America

Alfajores with Dulce de Leche
Makes 36
Recipe and photo courtesy: Stacy Adimando

6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 14-ouce tub dulce de leche, for filling
1/2 cup powdered sugar, for dusting

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and set aside. Using a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until it becomes light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract. Then add the flour mixture and blend just until the dough starts to come together. Using your hands, form the dough into a solid ball and flatten to make a disk. Wrap it with a couple of layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch fluted or round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds and carefully transfer them onto the prepared sheets, placing them about 1-inch apart. Chill the sheets again for about 15-20 minutes, until the dough is very firm, then bake for 8-10 minutes, until tops of the cookies have just firmed up and the bottoms are starting to colour slightly. Cool the cookies on wire racks. 

When completely cool, fill them with a teaspoon dulce de leche. Place another cookie on top, like a sandwich, and sift confectioner’s sugar over the alfajores and serve.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ki: Inspired Modern Japanese Cuisine at BCE Place

Ki is Japanese for pure; undiluted; raw. It's also the name of a magnificent modern Japanese restaurant nestled on the northwest corner of BCE Place at the corner of Wellington and Bay, in Toronto's financial district. Designed by Bregman + Hamann Architects, BCE Place is a complex of two modern towers connected by a graceful atrium of soaring parabolic shapes, called the Allen Lambert Galleria. This 'crystal cathedral of commerce' also houses the south entrance of Ki with it's spectacular glass wall sculpture designed by Jeff Burnette, one of Canada's premier glass blowers.

Jeff Burnette, one of Canada's premier glass blowers, created this extraordinary 
glass wall outside Ki's atrium entrance

Started in 2005 by Toronto dining impresarios David Aisenstat and Torsten Drees, both formerly of the Keg and Hy’s, the restaurant's stunning modern interior was designed by Vancouver designer Elaine Thorsell for a cool $7.5 million. And it seems that no expense was spared — the space is absolutely gorgeous. 

The Modern Room, located along the sushi bar

The Orchid private dining room

Entering through the over-sized doors, one is immediately greeted by a pleasant hostess and shown to one of Ki's many dining areas, from the two raised dining areas surrounded by ponds overlooking Bay Street, the refined and elegant sushi bar with it's 36-foot black granite bar, to the three stunning private dining areas for groups of 8 to 30 guests, there's also a fabulous outdoor bar and patio, which is enormously popular for the after-work crowd. With soft lighting, dark wood accents, plush comfortable seating and striking pieces of original art, the ambiance screams success. Absolutely packed on a sunny Friday afternoon, it's quite apparent Ki is the hot spot for the Bay Street power-lunching crowd.

The battalion of sushi chefs at Ki creating the most delicious and innovative 
sushi, sashimi and signature plates in Toronto

At Ki, the experience is meant to be a series of sensations to be shared and lingered over, whether it’s a cozy meal for a few or a lively evening out, the beautifully designed space has been artfully designed for both social and intimate dining experiences. At the sushi bar, expert chefs work their magic, creating a dynamic and interactive dining experience where guests can savour sushi, sashimi, small shared plates or the full menu plus one of the largest sake lists in Canada. 

Two ice cold Sapporo beers - perfect on this hot, humid and hazy afternoon, 
on Ki's spectacular 11-metre black granite sushi bar

Seated at the 36-foot long black granite sushi bar in their gracious round high-backed chairs, we were first handed two hot towels and then presented with a cocktail list and luncheon menu. At Ki, chefs prepare dishes in both the hot kitchen and at the sushi bar, featuring an array of dishes that are meant to be shared, from soups and salads, kushiyaki skewers, tempura, nigiri + sashimi, classic makimonos, Ki modern makimonos, signature hot and cold plates and daily bento box selections. Our friendly and knowledgeable server Ingrid, suggested that we select about 4 dishes each. We ordered two Sapporo beers and started with some Miso Soup with tofu, scallions and wakame.    

Ki menu designed as a square format, just like the logo

Ki luncheon menu

Miso soup with tofu, scallions and wakame

Following Ingrid's recommendation, we followed with two of Ki's signature cold dishes, the Toro Tower topped with crispy shallots and garlic ponzu dressing, and the Torched Sake with Asian pear and baby radish drizzled with a shiso yuzu dressing finished with a soy drizzled flash fried rice cracker. Light and delicate, both the Toro Tower and Torched Sake were beautifully presented and  portioned easily for two people to share. We also chose the Tempura Butterfish Modern Makimono with Alaskan king crab, salmon, butterfish, avocado, cucumber and tobiko with a tempura crust and and an order of Ikura salmon roe sushi. Warm with a light tempura batter, the Tempura Butterfish Makimono was outstanding. 

Toro Tower topped with crispy shallots and garlic ponzu dressing

Torched Sake with Asian pear and baby radish drizzled with a shiso yuzu dressing
and finished with flash fried rice cracker

Tempura Butterfish Modern Makimono with Alaskan king crab, salmon, butterfish, 
avocado, cucumber and tobiko with a tempura crust (R) and Ikura salmon roe (L)

Following with some hot dishes, we decided to try the Shrimp and Scallop Kushiyaki skewers brushed with a mango hot sauce, the Saikyo-marinated Black Cod with rapini, salmon roe and orange reduction, and side dish of Wok-Tossed Seasonal Asparagus and Local Shiitake Mushrooms.

Shrimp and Scallop Kushiyaki brushed with mango hot sauce

Wok-tossed seasonal asparagus and local Shiitake mushrooms

Saikyo-marinated Black Cod with rapini, salmon roe and orange reduction

At the end of our meal, although we chose not to indulge in dessert, we were presented with two chilled dark and white chocolates in a wonderful handmade origami box. Ki is not cheap, but it's worth every penny. Everything was excellent, from the service, to the décor, to the cuisine. Ki is a serene and sumptuous oasis in the middle of Toronto’s financial core — a culinary journey I hope to repeat with alarming regularity. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Chilled dark and white chocolates in a handmade origami box!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Classic Pot de Crème au Chocolat with Grand Marnier

This classic French dessert, loved for its rich, dark and intense chocolate flavour, is surprisingly simple to make. Pot de Crème au Chocolat are tiny pots of rich chocolate custard, similar to chocolate mousse, only richer and smaller. The ingredients are also almost identical to mousse — eggs, chocolate and cream — but while mousse is light in texture, pots de crème are rich and dense. Also mousse is put directly into the refrigerator to chill, while pots de crème are baked in a bain marie, or water bath, before chilling. 

Although this marvelous dessert looks very sophisticated, don’t be fooled by the posh name. It’s nothing more than a custard really, and one of the easiest desserts you can make. Start with small, heatproof cups and good-quality European bittersweet chocolate such as Callebaut, Valrhona or Lindt. Then whisk eggs and sugar to warmed cream, melted chocolate, and Grand Marnier, and strain to get rid of any lumps. Baking the filled pots in a water bath provides the gentle, moist heat that the custards need to thicken properly. Luscious, creamy and intensely rich, this sexy chocolate baked custard makes the perfect little decadent dessert. Served in my mother's Royal Worcester Evesham pot de creme cups that she gave me a few years ago, they were the final elegant touch to classic French Pot de Crème au Chocolat.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat with Grand Marnier
Serves 6

3 egg yolks
2 tbsp extra fine fruit sugar
1 1/4 cup light cream
3 oz Lindt Intense Dark 85% Cacao chocolate, chopped
3 oz Lindt Intense Orange chocolate, chopped
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 325°F. Using a standing mixer, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together until the yolks are pale and thick.

In a small saucepan, simmer the cream over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until melted and well blended.

Very slowly add the chocolate to the egg mixture, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Mix in the Grand Marnier. Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout — straining the liquid will remove any lumpy impurities. Blot foam from the top of the chocolate with a paper towel or skim with a spoon.

Place six pot de crème pots with lids or ramekins in a baking pan. Pour the chocolate mixture into the small cups, dividing it evenly, then add boiling water into the baking pan so the cups are half immersed. Cover the pots with their lids or the ramekins with a single sheet of aluminum foil. Bake until the custards are just set at the edges but still a little wobbly in the centre, about 15 to 20 minutes. They'll firm up as they chill.

Once they're cooked, remove the baking pan from the oven and place the cups on a wire rack, removing the lids or aluminum foil to let cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days before serving. Serve with whipped cream garnished with orange peel, shaved chocolate or simply sprinkled with some fleur de sel.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Creamy Spinach & Cheese Gratin

Classic creamed spinach is transformed into a luscious, rich and decadent cheesy gratin, in this quick and easy recipe for Spinach Gratin. A sexy little side dish when served in individual ramekins, and perfect as a larger casserole for holiday meals or dinner parties, this Spinach Gratin is a crowd favourite whenever I make it, and devoured by even those who avoid green vegetables. 

This delicious Spinach Gratin can be prepared well ahead of time and simply 
covered with cling film and chilled until needed

The flavour of the dish starts with chopped yellow onions sautéed in butter, and combined with simple ingredients such as chopped frozen spinach — which has been defrosted and squeezed dry — a little light cream, a touch of flour, a hint of nutmeg, some grated Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Topped with a sprinkling of grated gruyere cheese, and baked until it's bubbling hot and the cheese has melted to a golden perfection, the spinach absorbs all of the wonderful flavours and melds into something fabulously creamy and utterly delicious. One of my all-time favourite dishes, I make this Spinach Gratin over and over again, and always look forward to the next time — as do my friends and family!

Creamy Spinach & Cheese Gratin
Serves 6-8

3 tbsp butter
2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg, grated
2/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/3 cups whole milk
2 lb frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
2/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup gruyere, grated

Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook onion until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add cream and milk and cook, stirring, until thickened. Squeeze spinach and add to sauce, mixing to combine. Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer spinach mixture to a large baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan and all of the gruyere on top. Bake 20-25 minutes until bubbling hot, and serve hot.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Muskoka Heirloom Tomato, Basil & Asiago Salad

There's nothing like farm fresh Ontario heirloom tomatoes still warm from the vine. Garnished with some good quality olive oil, some lovely chopped basil, a healthy shaving of tangy Asiago cheese and a dash of Maldon sea salt, you have all the makings for my favourite summer lunch. After visiting the Gravenhurst Farmer's Market over a long weekend, we came home with all the ingredients for this delicious salad — the tomatoes and fresh basil came direct from VanHart Greenhouses in the Holland Marsh, and the fabulous Asiago cheese from Cosmo's. Of course, you don't have to drive all the way to Muskoka to take advantage of some of the freshest produce Ontario has to offer — it can be as close as your local farmer's market. 

Muskoka Tomato, Basil & Asiago Salad
Serves 2

1 large heirloom tomato
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 oz shaved Asiago
olive oil
Maldon Sea salt and black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into generous slices and lay decoratively on a small platter. Pour a good glug of olive oil overtop, then garnish with some shaved Asiago cheese and top with chopped fresh basil. Finish with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt and some fresh cracked black pepper.