Friday, January 30, 2015

Touhenboku Ramen: Japanese Soul Food on Queen

Ramen is more than noodles and soup — it's Japanese soul food. At this narrow restaurant on Queen West near the MuchMusic studios, they make their noodles in-house daily on an imported $40,000 ramen machine from Japan, and while many ramen shops emphasize the milky, creamy pork broth known as tonkotsu, Touhenboku uses only chicken broth. Two types are available: a clear, light broth known as chintan, where whole chickens are simmered for 4-5 hours, and a collagen-heavy broth known as paitan, where the chicken bones are mashed up and simmered until the broth becomes viscous. The menu is straightforward and offers four types of broth: garlic, chili, original and light, with your choice of lean pork, fatty pork or chicken; shio sea salt or shoyu soy flavouring; thin or thick noodles; and each soup is topped with wood ear mushrooms, a boiled egg, seaweed and scallions.

Touhenboku might look like any other ramen shop in Toronto, but look closer and you'll see a world of difference. Everything on the menu is homemade everyday and made with all natural ingredients, including their delicate and delicious Gyoza. Even the chopsticks, ramen spoons and porcelain bowls, which are meant to keep the ramen hot for longer — and they do — are all imported from Japan, much like the restaurant's noodle master, Keiichi Machida, who makes his noodles with a special high-protein flour for optimum elasticity. Touhenboku also has a Noodle Society, with an exclusive loyalty program for those who love authentic Japanese ramen — and really who doesn't? 

The Ramen at Touhenboku is made in-house and served with a smile

The menu features four styles of ramen that can be customized with seasoning and toppings

Asahi Premium Black Lager is rich and smooth

Five plump freshly made fried Gyoza pork dumplings with seasoned dipping sauce

Original Touhenboku Ramen in a rich, creamy chicken broth flavoured with shio sea salt or sho-yu soya, and served with chashu seaweed, a boiled egg, kikurage mushrooms and green onion

Yakitori Donburi, grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce served on a bed of steaming hot rice

Garlicky Touhenboku Ramen with Ma-Yu, a special sesame blended garlic oil that adds a sweet and sour dimension to the broth, served with chashu, seaweed, a boiled egg, kikurage mushrooms and green onion

Those who eat over 100 bowls of ramen through Touhenboku's Noodle Society,
receive a laser cut wooden loyalty card for discounts on more ramen!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pâté de Campagne with Cognac: Rustic & Refined

Both rustic and refined, Pâté de Campagne, or country pâté, could be called the cornerstone of charcuterie. Every chef worth their salt has his or hers own take on this French classic. Pâté de Campagne’s humble beginnings can be traced back to medieval Europe, when it was common to cook a farce of chopped meats, fat and seasoning inside a pastry crust or fat-lined earthenware dish. Throughout the centuries French cooks have refined the preparation of pâtés and terrines. Pâté de Campagne takes many forms. At its core it is a mixture of ground meats; pork and veal are classic, occasionally with ham, or as in this recipe, bacon — and always with liver. Unlike a liver pâté, Pâté de Campagne uses liver as a flavouring, not the focus. Meats are typically chopped, or ground with a meat grinder, for the characteristic coarse texture of a country pâté. Spices often include garlic, thyme, cloves, nutmeg, mace, ginger, coriander, cinnamon and white or black pepper, and more. Interior garnishes are also common; examples being nuts, like walnuts or pistachios; dried fruits like cherries, figs or apricots; or the classic and coveted truffle. Pâté de Campagne is served cold, allowing a day to fully set and develop flavour, with cornichons and a good dijon mustard or chutney being typical accoutrements and also a French baguette — you simply cannot serve a Campagne without a proper baguette. Bon appétit!

Chicken livers are marinated in cognac, fresh thyme, a bay leaf and pepper for 3 hours

All but 2 of the cognac-marinated chicken livers are finely chopped

The cognac marinade is reserved in a bowl

The ground pork, veal, pork fat and chopped chicken livers are mixed together in a large bowl

The reserved cognac is added to the mixture and seasoned with salt and pepper

The mixture is beaten with a wooden spoon until well combined

A terrine is lined with thinly sliced bacon

Half of the ground meat is spread into the terrine

The reserved chicken livers are placed in the middle of the terrine

The remaining ground meat is spread overtop

A final layer of sliced bacon is laid overtop of the terrine, which is then baked in a water bath at 350°F for about an hour, at which point it's weighted down and refrigerated for 1 to 2 days before serving

Rustic Pâté de Campagne with Cognac

Serves 10-12

1/2 lb chicken livers
1/4 cup cognac
thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf 
7 oz lean ground pork
1/2 lb pork fat
7 oz ground veal
1/2 lb sliced bacon
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, combine the livers with the cognac, thyme, bay leaf and season with ground pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours, then drain, reserving the cognac.

Cut 2 of the livers into large pieces and chop the rest. In a large bowl, beat the pork, veal, pork fat, chopped livers and reserved cognac with a wooden spoon, and season with salt and pepper. Cook a small piece of the mixture in a sauté pan and taste. Add salt and pepper to the remaining meat if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a terrine with sliced bacon, reserving some for the top. Spread half of the ground meat mixture in the terrine, pressing it down quite firmly. Then lay in the large pieces of liver and cover with the remaining ground meat. Lay the remaining sliced bacon overtop and cover with the lid.

Set the terrine in a roasting pan and fill with hot water to come up half way up the sides of the terrine, and bake for one hour. 

Remove the terrine from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, wrap the terrine in cling film and press the paté with weights, such as tins of tomatoes, until cooled. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days before serving.

To serve, arrange slices of paté on small plates garnished with toasted baguette, cornichons, a sprig of parsley and perhaps some homemade chutney.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Persimmon Carpaccio with Greek Yogurt & Berries

One of the few winter fruits along with oranges and clementines, persimmons taste like sunshine. Referred to as 'fruit of the gods' by the ancient Greeks, persimmons are actually not a fruit, but a large, round succulent berry with a thin smooth reddish-orange outer skin that resembles a tomato in appearance. Inside the pulp is soft and creamy with a sweet honey-like flavour similar to mango. A low calorie fruit available October through February, persimmons are delicious and exotic with a wealth of health benefits packed inside them, including their ability to improve eye health, reduce signs of aging, improve digestion, boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, increase metabolism, strengthen bones, boost cognitive function, lower blood pressure, and take care of ones skin. Furthermore, they can help the body heal faster, aid in weight loss, reduce inflammation and increase blood circulation throughout the body — truly, a 'fruit of the Gods'. When ripe, they have a firm, crisp texture and can be eaten in slices, like this healthy and delicious Persimmon Carpaccio with Greek Yogurt & Berries. 

Persimmon Carpaccio with Greek Yogurt & Berries
Serves 2

1 Kaki persimmon, peeled and sliced
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 cup fresh blueberries
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Stir together the yogurt and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside. To assemble, arrange the persimmons slices on a serving plate or in bowl, top with the yogurt and garnish with fresh berries and pomegranate seeds.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Roast Beet, Persimmon & Chickpea Salad with Chèvre

The vibrant jewel-toned colours of magenta beets, sunny persimmons, golden chickpeas, bright green arugula and tangy herbed goat cheese play off each other deliciously in this fabulous Mediterranean-inspired salad. The perfect antidote for the drab days of winter, the bolt of colour from sweet earthy roasted beets, soft persimmons and the chunks of creamy chèvre balance perfectly with the nutty flavour and buttery texture of the chickpeas. Nestled on a bed of peppery wild arugula and dressed with a simple vinaigrette, this wildly flavourful and nutritious salad is great on its own or served alongside some simply grilled fish or seafood.

Roasted Beet, Persimmon, Chickpea & Arugula Salad with Chèvre 
Serves 4

3 small beets, washed and leafy tops removed
1 persimmon, peeled and sliced
3 cups arugula
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 oz Woolwich Dairy herbed goat cheese, crumbled
Maldon sea salt, for garnish

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, minced
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Maldon salt, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Wrap each of the beets in aluminum foil and bake for at least an hour, or until a knife passes easily through the centre. Allow them to cool, then using plastic gloves, peel the skins off. Cut the beets into small wedges and place in a bowl. To make the vinaigrette, add the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon and minced garlic together in a small bowl and whisk until well combined. Season with fresh cracked black pepper to taste. To serve, arrange the arugula, beets, sliced persimmon and chickpeas on a serving dish and drizzle with some vinaigrette. Garnish with the goat cheese and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt for extra zing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sansotei Ramen: A Passion for Tonkotsu Ramen

Slurping our way down the ramen rabbit hole one hot steaming bowl of noodles at a time, we tried Sansotei Ramen, considered by many to be one of the top ramen houses in the city. Located near Dundas and Chestnut, Sansotei Ramen was opened by Michael Zhang, a graduate of Japan’s renowned Yamato Ramen School, and his wife Chigusa over 2 years ago, and has since amassed oodles of noodle dévotés. The menu is simple, with five kinds of ramen, including their signature Tonkotsu: a slowly simmered Hakata-style pork bone-based ramen broth, with thick or thin noodles from Zhang’s own recipe. We started with Gyoza, highly addictive little Japanese dumplings, and Zengi, deep fried chicken that's marinated overnight in soy sauce, sugar, ginger and garlic, then dredged in flour, fried to golden perfection and served with a simple wedge of lemon. 
Then it was noodle time — we chose Tonkotsu Black Ramen made with creamy tonkotsu broth topped with sliced pork belly, black fungus, runny soft boiled egg, green onion and garlic oil, as well as Spicy Tantan made with slow-cooked pork belly, ground pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, egg and green onion. The small narrow room, designed by J. Cho Design, is attractively detailed with bamboo banquettes, sleek stone tile walls and a thick knot of sailor’s rope that dances above diners like braided coils of soft ramen. The service is fast, the staff friendly and if you're fortunate to arrive at the right time, you can get a table straight away. And for less than $10 a bowl, it's close to noodle heaven.

The interior of Sansotei features bamboo banquettes, modern stone tile walls and thick knot of sailor’s rope hanging above

The menu is simple with five kinds of ramen, including Zhang's signature tonkotsu broth

Founded in 1876, Sapporo is the oldest brand of beer in Japan

Zangi deep fried chicken, marinated overnight in soy sauce, sugar, ginger and garlic, then dredged in flour, fried golden and served with a simple lemon wedge

Plump Sansotei Gyoza

Spicy Tantan Ramen with thin noodles, pork belly, ground pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, egg and green onion

Tonkotsu Black Ramen, Sansotei's signature dish with silky and creamy tonkotsu broth topped with sliced pork belly, black fungus, marinated soft boiled egg, green onion and garlic oil

Friday, January 23, 2015

Alca Corba: Turkish Lentil, Chickpea & Bulgur Soup

Rich, vibrant and delicious, this classic Turkish Alca Corba Soup which features a flavourful and nutritious combination of bright red lentils, plump chickpeas and whole-grain bulgur, is a staple of many Anatolian kitchens. The third largest producer of lentils in the world, it should come as no surprise that this humble legume features so dominantly in Turkish cuisine. Whether puréed as a thick and satisfying or light thin broth, this soup is wonderfully textured, slightly spicy and deeply aromatic, with a drizzle of sizzling spiced herbed butter and dollop of sour cream swirled in at the end as a final flourish.

Turkish Alca Corba Lentil, Chickpea & Bulgur Soup
Serves 6

1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, seeded and chopped
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp Turkish red peppers or crushed red peppers, to taste
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups dried red lentils, soaked in water overnight, washed and drained
1/4 cup Turkish bulgur or wheatberries
6 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp dried mint, for garnish
1 cup sour cream, for garnish

Flavoured oil:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp smokey Turkish ground red pepper

Drain the chickpeas and set them aside. Heat the oil in a large pot, then add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Add the jalapeno and salt, and continue cooking, stirring often, for 2 minutes more.

Add the cumin, paprika, red pepper and tomato paste. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until the spices are aromatic. Add the chickpeas, lentils, and bulgur, and cook while stirring, for 30 seconds or until they're coated with spices. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the foam on the surface of the liquid, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chickpeas are tender and the lentils have almost turned into a purée. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup into a creamy consistency.

While the soup is cooking make the flavoured oil. Warm the olive oil in a pan with the butter until the butter has melted and the foaming subsides. Remove from heat and stir in the dried tarragon and paprika.

To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls with a swirl of sizzling herbed butter over top, a dollop of sour cream, and garnished with dried mint and baby corn sprouts.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Turkish Lamb Dumplings with Yoghurt & Zesty Butter

These delicious tiny Turkish treasures called Manti or Mantu, are small bite-size dumplings made with spiced ground meat and onion, that nomadic Turkish tribes brought with them as they travelled from Central Asia towards Anatolia during the 13th-century. A popular dish also among Armenian, Caucasian, Afgan and Chinese Islamic cuisines, family members traditionally gathered to prepare the dough and fill the tiny squares, as a labour of true culinary love. The marriage of the melt-in-the-mouth dumplings with garlic-yoghurt sauce and spice infused butter is simply irresistible. Inspired by the delectable Turkish Minced Lamb Pasta Parcels that I enjoyed at Diwan last weekend, I became obsessed with Manti, and the complex and enticing flavours that define Turkish cuisine, so was thrilled when I came across this fabulous recipe from 'Turquiose: A Chefs Travels in Turkey' by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Combined with Chef Patrick Riley's dramatic presentation — painterly swoosh of Turkish hot pepper paste, artful garnish of nasturtium petals, and final sprinkle of bright red ground sumac — it's not surprising that these Lamb Manti with Yoghurt and Zesty Paprika Butter are the most popular entrée at Diwan Restaurant at Toronto's new Aga Khan Museum.

Manti with Yoghurt and Zesty Paprika Butter
Serves 4
Recipe adapted from 'Turquoise' by Greg and Lucy Malouf 

Manti Dough:
2-3 large eggs
14 oz bread flour
1 tsp sea salt

7 oz minced or ground lamb
1 small onion, grated
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic-Yogurt Sauce:
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
2 cups Greek-style yogurt or sour cream

Mint-Paprika Butter:
2 oz unsalted butter
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tspn dried mint

Red Swoosh:
4 tbsp Turkish hot pepper paste
2 tbsp tomato paste

Nasturtiums and corn sprouts, optional

To make the manti dough, lightly beat two of the eggs and place into the bowl of an electric mixer with the flour and salt. Use the dough hook to work it to a stiff dough. If the dough is too stiff, add the remaining egg, lightly beaten. Knead for about 5 minutes, then put the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for another 5 minutes or so, until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest for about 1 hour.

Separate the dough into golf ball-size pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface to form a large, paper-thin rectangle. Cut into strips around 1-1/2 inches wide, and repeat with the remaining dough. Stack the strips on top of one other and cut into 1-1/2-inch to 2-inch squares. If you have a pasta machine, roll the dough through the settings, then trim the sheets to end up with 1-1/2-inch squares.

Combine the lamb and onion in a bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Place a chickpea-sized amount of filling in the centre of each manti square. To form into a traditional Manti-shape, bring two opposite corners together over the filling and press to join at the top. Repeat with the other two corners, carefully moistening and pinching the side 'seams' as you seal them, with the aim of end ing up with a four-cornered starlike shape, ensuring that the edges are sealed well so the filling doesn't come out as the manti cook. Place the manti on a lightly floured tray as you complete them and repeat until all the dough and filling have been used.

In a small bowl, crush the garlic with 1 teaspoon salt, then beat into the yogurt until well combined and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the hot pepper and tomato paste until smooth, then using a large pastry brush or palette knife, smear a spoonful of the tomato paste along the inside of each serving bowl and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Drop in some of the manti — they will rise to the surface within 1-1/2 to 2 minutes as they are cooked. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the cooked manti to four warmed serving bowls and drizzle with the garlic-yogurt sauce. Quickly sizzle the butter in a small frying pan, then add the paprika and mint and heat until foaming. Drizzle the sizzling butter over the manti, garnish with nasturtiums and corn sprouts, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Rich Tomato Sauce

There’s nothing more satisfying than a heaping platter of spaghetti and meatballs in a thick rich tomato sauce. It's the perfect Italian comfort food. However, it's not in fact an authentic Italian dish, but an Italian-American adaptation. But who cares? Smaller meatballs are more traditionally Italian, but the stars of this dish are the meatballs, and in this case — size does matter. 

The robust combination of pork, beef and veal flavoured with fresh parsley, Italian seasoning, breadcrumbs and lots of Pecorino cheese, give these plump meatballs a rich depth of flavour that stands up to even the heartiest tomato sauce. The meatballs are gently pan fried and then braised in the sauce for about half an hour, adding an extra complexity to the thick marinara sauce. Served on a large platter over a mound of perfectly cooked spaghetti, this is a delicious heart warming dish to have in your repertoire, since both the meatballs and tomato sauce freeze wonderfully well, and can be reheated whenever you need a dose of comfort food on a cold winter's evening.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Serves 6
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 1/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs, crusts removed
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
2 tbsp good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion 
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
2 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp dried crushed red peeper
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
3 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Pecorino

Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, parsley, Pecorino, salt, pepper, Italian seasonings, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork, being careful not to overmix. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs, which will make about 14 to 16.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil over medium-high, and very carefully place the meatballs in the oil in batches, and brown them well on all sides, turning them carefully with a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, dried crushed red peppers, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. As the meatballs cook, they will also add complexity to the sauce. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Pecorino. If you're feeling decadent, some warm garlic bread wouldn't go amiss!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Gorgonzola & Chives

Inspired by the quintessentially English side dish of Cauliflower & Cheese, this luxuriously creamy Cauliflower Soup with Gorgonzola Cheese & Chives is a new spin on the British-inspired classic. Rich, hearty and wonderfully satisfying, this sensational soup is as simple to make, as it is delicious. An elegant starter for any meal, it's comfort food in a bowl.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Gorgonzola & Chives
Serves 6

1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 leek, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 baking potato, diced
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz Gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, leeks and celery and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the diced potato, chicken broth, cauliflower florets, nutmeg and sherry. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until both the potatoes and cauliflower are tender, then remove from heat.

Purée the cauliflower mixture in batches using a food processor or blender, then transfer back to the pot, and warm over medium-low heat. Season with white pepper and salt to taste. Stir in the milk and cream, then crumble in the Gorgonzola. Heat the soup through until the cheese melts, stirring frequently, but don't it to boil. To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls, and garnish with chopped chives.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stracciatella with Leeks, Spinach, Chicken & 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 Leeks, Spinach, Chicken & Orzo is easy to prepare and makes a perfect lunch or first course.

Stracciatella with Leeks, Spinach, Chicken & 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.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Roasted Garlic and Parsnip Soup

A heartwarming winter soup of roasted garlic and earthy parsnips makes an elegant starter with a flavourful garnish of crumbled gorgonzola cheese, toasted walnuts and drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil. For an super silky smooth texture, the liquid can passed through a sieve once puréed, then combined with some light cream for a rich and satisfying soup sure to warm up on a cold fall or winter night.

Roasted Garlic & Parsnip Soup with Walnuts and Gorgonzola 
Serves 6

3 heads of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 large parsnips, peeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 cup light cream, optional
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
2 oz Gorgonzola, crumbled
1/8 cup rosemary-infused olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a sharp knife, cut the top 1/4-inch off each head of garlic to expose the cloves, then place on a square of aluminum foil, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and wrap to enclose. Place on a baking sheet and roast until soft, about 30 to 35 minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves from the skin into a small bowl and set aside, discarding the skins.

Meanwhile, heat butter and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and stir until translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the stock and chopped parsnip and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the parsnip is very tender, about 45-60 minutes. Then add the roasted garlic and cream and purée with a hand-held blender until smooth. Return the purée to the saucepan, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste, and rewarm over medium low heat.

To serve, divide the soup among warmed bowls, and garnish with toasted walnuts, crumbled gorgonzola and a drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka: A Noodle Obsession

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Toronto's first location of the Japanese noodle chain hailing from Hokkaido, opened just over 2 years ago and is riding the rapacious Ramen wave that's hit the city like a tsunami. The glass-fronted noodle emporium on Dundas East specializes in Tonkatsu-style broth – a creamy broth built from simmering pork bones for two days, with Chashu pork being by far the most popular ramen topping. Though the name is derived from the Chinese char siu roast pork, the Japanese version is made by simmering pork in a sweet soy and mirin sauce until it's fall-apart tender. Wood Ear Mushrooms, also called Jelly Ear, are a dehydrated fungus that is then rehydrated and sliced, and adds a wonderful umami quality to Santouka's Miso and Shoya Ramen Soups. Hiroshi Asada, who oversees Canadian operations, says that consistency is key to the brand’s success: “What sets us apart is that we’re a chain, and we stick to the same recipe that got us here.” It’s clearly working, for there are long lineups at both lunch and dinnertime, but it's definitely worth the wait. Winter is ramen slurping season, and with temperatures hovering well below freezing, a steaming bowl of ramen is the perfect cure for the cold weather woes.

One of the bandana-clad ramen brigade in Santouka's open kitchen

A tall glass of cold Japanese Sapporo beer

To begin, a platter of warm Pork Gyoza

Seasoned in a small pool of soy gives the gyoza a bright earthy umami flavour

Miso Ramen Soup made from a mixture of pork broth and a rich and hearty miso paste, topped with dried seaweed, cha-cha pork, bamboo shoot, chopped scallions and jelly ear

Shoyu Ramen Soup, made from a mixture of pork broth and soy sauce topped with dried seaweed, cha-cha pork, bamboo shoot, chopped scallions and jelly ear

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth
Makes about 3 quarts broth, serving 6 to 8

3 lb pig trotters, split lengthwise or cut crosswise into 1-inch disks
2 lb chicken backs and carcasses, skin and excess fat removed
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, skin on, roughly chopped
12 garlic cloves
1 3-inch knob ginger, roughly chopped
2 whole leeks, washed and roughly chopped
2 dozen scallions, white parts only, reserve light green parts for garnish 
6 oz whole mushrooms 
1 lb slab pork fat back

Place pork and chicken bones in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Place on a burner over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as boil is reached.

While pot is heating, heat vegetable oil in a medium cast iron or non-stick skillet over high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook, tossing occasionally until deeply charred on most sides, about 15 minutes total. Set aside.

Once pot has come to a boil, dump water down the drain. Carefully wash all bones under cold running water, removing any bits of dark marrow or coagulated blood. Bones should be uniform grey/white after you've scrubbed them. Use a chopstick to help remove small bits of dark marrow from inside the trotters or near the chicken's spines.

Return bones to pot along with charred vegetables, leeks, scallion whites, mushrooms, and pork fatback. Top up with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that appears — this should stop appearing within the first 20 minutes or so. Use a clean sponge or moist paper towels to wipe and black or gray scum off from around the rim of the pot. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a heavy lid on top.

Once the lid is on, check the pot after 15 minutes. It should be at a slow rolling boil. If not, increase or decrease heat slightly to adjust boiling speed. Boil broth until pork fatback is completely tender, about 4 hours. Carefully remove pork fat with a slotted spatula. Transfer fatback to a sealed container and refrigerate until step 7. Return lid to pot and continue cooking until broth is opaque with the texture of light cream, about 6 to 8 hours longer, topping up as necessary to keep bones submerged at all times. If you must leave the pot unattended for an extended period of time, top up the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting while you are gone. Return to a boil when you come back and continue cooking, topping up with more water as necessary.

Once broth is ready, cook over high heat until reduced to around 3 quarts. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard solids. For an even cleaner soup, strain again through a chinois or a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. Skim liquid fat from top with a ladle and discard.

Finely chop cooked pork fatback and whisk into finished broth. To serve, season broth with condiments of your choice — salt, soy sauce, miso, sesame paste, grated fresh garlic, chili oil or a mixture of all — and serve with cooked ramen noodles and toppings as desired.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fluffy Cheddar & Spinach Soufflé-Frittata

The classic egg dishes, among them quiche, omelette, frittata and strata, are a treasured tool in any cook's culinary arsenal. My friend Chris makes the most wonderful Cheddar & Spinach Soufflé Frittata, which I have since adopted as my own and make many times during the year. Fluffier than a frittata and more robust than a soufflé, it's actually more like a 'Souffrittata'. Absolutely fool-proof and easy to prepare, it's perfect for brunch, lunch or a quick weekday dinner. The added bonus is that is that it's also low carb and makes an ideal dish for vegetarians. The recipe, made with simple ingredients — eggs, cheese, spinach and green onion — can also be customized with whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. Chris sometimes serves it with a Bloody Mary on weekends, which is very decadent indeed!

Cheddar & Spinach Soufflé Frittata
Serves 4

2 10-oz packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups cottage cheese
6 large eggs, beaten
6 tbsp flour
1 lb cheddar cheese, grated 
4 tbsp green onions, chopped
1 tsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced for garnish

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter a 9" pie plate or individual ramekins, and set aside. Mix the spinach, cottage cheese, eggs, flour, grated cheddar and green onions in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir well to thoroughly combine. Transfer the mixture into the prepared pie plate or ramekins and top with sliced  red onion. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until set and nicely browned. Serve hot.