Friday, May 29, 2015

Mango, Peach, Strawberry & Banana Smoothie

While we were in Charleston last month we discovered Whisk, a wonderful juice bar just around the corner from the hotel where we were staying. Made with fresh and flash frozen fruit with no added sugar or syrups, their ice-based smoothies were thick, delicious and bursting with flavour. I ordered the Tropical Twister each morning, an explosive combination of pineapple, mango and banana. A great, healthy low fat jump-start to any morning, I was inspired to make my own version of Whisk's tropical smoothie using 'Irresistibles Caribbean Flavour Mixed Fruit,' a mix of individually quick frozen strawberries, peaches and mangoes, in addition to two whole bananas and a little water. The results were outstanding with just 220 calories per serving!

Irresistibles Caribbean Flavour Mixed Fruit

'Whisk' in Charleston

Mango, Peach, Strawberry & Banana Smoothie
Serves 2

1 600g package frozen mango, strawberries and peaches
2 whole bananas, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup water

Using an upright blender, pour in half of the frozen fruit and one banana and blend until thick and smooth. If the consistency needs to be loosened up, add 1/4 cup of cold water and pulse until the smoothie can be enjoyed with a straw. To serve, pour each serving into a tall glass and garnish with fresh banana.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Caponata: A Classic Sicilian Aubergine Antipasto

A delicious Mediterranean aubergine stew from southern Italy, Caponata is a classic Sicilian dish that can be enjoyed as a warm vegetable side dish or as a cold antipasto. A dense condiment of chunky fried eggplant and other fresh vegetables and seasonings, Caponata is jam-packed with flavour — sweet, sour, salty all at once. Using a vibrant mixture of fresh produce from the island, the dish traditionally includes eggplant, onion, celery, tomatoes, olives, capers and basil. And this is exactly what Caponata is about: a truly Sicilian combination that brings together the island’s abundance of local vegetables that grow all over the island, to produce an explosion of sweet and sour flavours that just make you want to eat more and more of it. My good friend Dorothea created this beautiful dish. Artfully presented and full of fresh summer flavours, she serves her Caponata as a small stack topped with a generous slice of Buffalo Mozzarella and finished with a drizzle of top quality aged Balsamic vinegar, a fresh basil leaf and warm slice of grilled bruschetta. Divine.

Sicilian Caponata 
Serves 4

4 medium aubergines, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 anchovy filets, chopped
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced crosswise
5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 oz green olives such as Cerignola, pitted and coarsely chopped
3 tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil, plus whole leaves for garnish
4 slices of Buffalo Mozzarella
Aged Balsamic Vinegar, for drizzling

Sprinkle the aubergines with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30-60 minutes. Then rinse eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat some of the olive oil in a saucepan and brown the aubergine over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. When cooked, using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining olive oil, onions and anchovies, and cook until soft about 12-15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and celery and cook until the tomatoes release their juices, about 5–6 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the olives and cook for 20 minutes. Add the cooled aubergine and the capers.

In a separate bowl, mix together the red wine vinegar and sugar. Add this to the pan and cook for 10 minutes. It's ready when the red wine vinegar has been absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl, mix well and set aside and let cool slightly. Add the chopped basil.

To serve, form the caponata into short stacks, top with a slice of Buffalo Mozzarella and drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar. Garnish with a basil leaf and slice of grilled bruschetta on the side. Serve at room temperature.

Simple Bruschetta
Serves 4

4 slices baguette, cut on a diagonal
1 clove garlic
extra-virgin olive oil

Slice the bread and grill in the oven until slightly brown. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the bread immediately with the cut garlic clove then brush with olive oil. Serve with the caponata.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tuna Salad with Onion Sprouts & Hard Boiled Eggs

Low calorie, low carb and a great source of Omega-3, this simple, light and delicious Tuna Salad recipe makes an easy weekday dinner paired with mixed salad greens, homemade croutons, hard boiled eggs, topped with a mound of flavourful onion sprouts and dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Summertime dining doesn't get any easier, healthier or more satisfying.

Tuna Salad with Onion Sprouts & Hard Boiled Eggs
Serves 2

10 oz canned tuna, drained and flaked
1/2 cup diced English cucumber
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 lemon, zested
2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise 
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 oz mixed greens
1/2 cup homemade croutons
2 large eggs, hard boiled, peeled and halved
1 package onion sprouts, for garnish
Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Sliced avocado and tomatoes, optional

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, minced
Fresh cracked black pepper and salt, to taste

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 and salt to taste. Combine tuna, diced cucumber, green onions, lemon juice, zest, dill, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir well. Toss the mixed greens and croutons and some vinaigrette to taste, then arrange on 2 plates and top with a generous scoop of the tuna mixture. Top with a handful of onion sprouts and garnish with hard boiled eggs. Season with Maldon salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste and drizzle with more vinaigrette if need. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

La Bettola Di Terroni & Diana Krall: Food & Song

La Bettola di Terroni is one of the newer additions to the ever-expanding Terroni family, which now boasts five locations in Toronto and one now in Los Angeles. Sharing an entrance and kitchen with sister restaurant Osteria Ciceri e Tria, the Southern Italian menu features classic Terroni dishes focused on Pugliese and Sicilian cuisines, such as Carpaccio di Pesce Spada, Funghi Assoluti, Arancíni filled with peas and veal ragu, and house-made Agnolotti filled with braised beef in a butter sage and parmigiano sauce, in addition to pizzas such as Smendozzata with tomato, mozzarella, gorgonzola, red onions, and homemade Italian sausage, tempting salads, zuppas and decadent dolce. While it’s certainly one of the most casual of the Terroni offspring, La Bettola (Italian for 'hole-in-the-wall') boasts an impressive all-Italian wine list and stylish rustic urban-industrial interior by Giannone Petricone Associates: “We have a palette for Terroni: always real stone, ceramics, steel and wood,” says Giannone. Walking distance to Massey Hall, La Bettola was a convenient stroll to the Diana Krall concert for which we had tickets that evening, for a glorious evening of food, wine and song.

La Bettola di Terroni shares the entrance with sister restaurant, 
Osteria Ciceri e Tria, where they share a kitchen

La Bettola di Terroni's stylishly rustic urban industrial interior with with polished marble floors, metal chairs, smooth leather banquettes and rough wooden tables

"Mangia, Bevi Ama" — Eat, Drink, Love — on a metal wall as custom 12" magnetic letters 

Quirky tin can pendant lighting 

The menu features classic Terroni dishes with a Pugliese and Sicilian twist

Water arrives in glass carafes with vintage glass tumblers

An Aperol Spritz with Prosecco and slice of orange 

Housemade bread served with Italian olive oil

Polpo alla Griglia: Seared Octopus with couscous, chick peas, salsa verde and garnished with microgreens

La zuppa di cicerchia

Insalata di Farro with spelt, BC spot prawn, cherry tomato, mint, celery, grilled zucchini and eggplant with Pistacchios in a Citrus Dressing

La Bettola di Terroni offers a selection of Italian wines by the glass, carafe and bottle

Spaghetti alle Vongole with clams, garlic, chili and white wine

Spaghetti allo Scoglio

Pappardelle al Sugo d'Agnello

Diana Krall's new album 'Wallflower'

Homemade Gnocchi with Smoked Mozzarella
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Enza Aloi, Executive Chef, Terroni

3 medium russet potatoes, about 1 3/4-pounds
1 large egg yolk
2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, or more as needed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 roasted red peppers, peel, seeded and cut into julienne
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 1/4-inch thick slices smoked mozzarella, cubed
2 tbsp shredded fresh basil
2 cup fresh or canned tomato sauce
Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Grated Parmesan, to taste
2 1/4-inch thick slices smoked mozzarella, cubed
2 tbsp shredded fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pierce the potatoes a few times with a sharp paring knife and place them in the oven. Bake them until tender and cooked through, about 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle — the hotter the potatoes, the lighter the gnocchi — peel the potatoes and pass them through a ricer, then spread on a baking sheet and let cool completely.

Once potatoes are cooled, gather them into a mound on a cutting board and form a well in the centre. Put the egg yolk into the well and begin kneading the potato and egg together with both hands, gradually adding the grated Parmesan and enough of the flour to form a smooth but slightly sticky dough. (Keep in mind that the longer the dough is kneaded, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become.)

Roll the dough into finger thick strips and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle the pieces lightly with flour. Using the tines of a fork and the tip of your thumb take one segment and roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. This action will give your dumpling a deep indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Place the dumplings on a baking sheet lined with a floured kitchen towel, and cook immediately or freeze.

To freeze the gnocchi, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread a single layer of gnocchi on the parchment. Cover the layer of gnocchi with another sheet of parchment. Spread another layer of gnocchi on the parchment. Repeat with remaining gnocchi, finishing with a layer of parchment paper. Then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze.

For the sauce, start by heating the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the roasted red peppers and the parsley, then add the cubed smoked mozzarella and the basil. Finally, add the tomato sauce and simmer. Season to taste.

Bring 6 quarts salted water to a rigorous boil. Add the gnocchi, stirring gently and continuously with a wooden spoon, cooking the gnocchi until they rise to the surface, about 1 minute. After they rise to the surface continue cooking them for an additional minute.

Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon or a skimmer, and transfer to the saucepan with the sauce. Stir until the gnocchi are covered with the sauce. Plate and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan, cubed smoked mozzarella and the shredded basil.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Moules Marinières: A Traditional French Classic

Wine, cream, and butter — the holy trinity of any devout epicurean. Together they produce a mighty potion rich enough to enhance any dish. One of my favourites is Moules Marinières, a classic dish found in brasseries throughout the world. The essentials are simple: cook chopped leeks in an abundance of butter, add a dollop or two of white wine, lashings of parsley and a final flourish of light cream. Difficult? Hardly. Expensive? Not at all. Mussels are only $2.99/lb, but you'll need a reasonably good bottle of white wine, both for the broth and for quaffing afterwards. Moules is an easy dish that can be prepared in no time at all, and it's delicious, especially with a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the addictively delicious sauce. If you're feel sufficiently motivated, you can also make your own french fries for a traditional "moules-frites." Mon Dieu.

Moules Marinières 
Serves 2

1 lb mussels, de-beard and kept chilled until using
2 leeks, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 handful of fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
kosher salt and white pepper
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Crusty French bread, for serving

In a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the leeks, season with salt and white pepper and sauté until translucent, about 5 or 6 minutes. Then add the wine and fresh thyme, and stir to combine. Once the wine is bubbling, add the mussels and give them a stir to coat. Cover and turn the heat up to medium-high, and continue cooking 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened up. Those that haven't, you should discard. Add the cream and parsley, and give it all a good stir. Serve the moules in one large bowl or portion into two warmed dinner bowls. Ladle the sauce overtop and garnish with some additional chopped parsley. Be sure to mop up the sauce with a loaf of warm crusty bread — delicious!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Linguine with Clams in White Wine Sauce

Full of fresh simple flavours of the sea, nothing beats a seductive bowl of Linguine alle Vongole Bianco. The classic combination of clams and pasta is traditionally a Neapolitan dish but is also popular in the surrounding region of Campania, Rome, and throughout Italy, where this fragrant dish can be prepared two ways: rosso, with tomatoes and basil, or bianco, without. In this recipe, fresh Manila clams are steamed in a broth of olive oil, butter, onions, garlic and white wine until they just open and release their briny liquid into the sauce. The linguine is cooked until just al dente — in salty water, of course — then tossed with the clams, broth, and a handful of fresh herbs until it absorbs the sauce. Add a pad of butter or splash of olive oil and flurry of chopped parsley at the very end to make your pasta verdant and shiny, and serve with a cold glass of white wine for a traditional Neapolitan dish that is simple, delicious, and just about perfect. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best. 

Linguine with Clams in White Wine Sauce
Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
1/4 tsp red-pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
2 lb small Manila or littleneck clams, soaked and scrubbed
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 oz linguine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and drop the linguine into the boiling water.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the chopped onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until the onions become translucent and the garlic is golden, about 6-8 minutes. Then add the white wine and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until it's reduced slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the clams and half of the chopped parsley, cover and simmer, shaking the pan occasionally, until all the shells have opened, about 3-5 minutes.

Drain the linguine when it's one minute short of the cooking time on the package instructions and add to the sauté pan with the clams. Toss the pasta in the pan to allow it to absorb the broth. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, transfer the pasta and clams with sauce to warmed serving bowls and garnish with the remaining chopped parsley.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Creamy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Leek Soup with Stilton

Rich and creamy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Leek Soup is a delicious and soul satisfying dish on a chilly night, and gets an extra boost of flavour from some crumbled stilton, the creamy blue-veined British favourite. Of course, if you really like blue cheese, crumble a bit more on top with a swirl of cream, for a luxurious starter, or serve with a knob of warm crusty bread for a simple and easy dinner.

Creamy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Leek Soup with Stilton
Serves 4

4 tbsp butter
3 large leeks, rinsed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 cup fresh parsley, rinsed and chopped 
4 cups chicken stock 
Kosher salt and white pepper
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup stilton or gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
parsley to garnish

Sauté the leeks and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and cook another 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Add the broccoli cauliflower and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. cook covered for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fork tender. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool sufficiently before puréeing. Using a hand-held immersion or standing blender, purée until smooth. Pour the soup back into the saucepan and stir in the cream and cheese, mixing well to combine. Rewarm the soup on medium-low. Ladle the soup into pre-warmed bowls, garnish with a sprig of parsley and serve with some warm crusty bread.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grilled Asparagus with Duck Eggs & Shaved Pecorino

Each weekend at the St Lawrence Farmer's Market it's possible to buy fresh duck eggs. Slightly larger than a normal chicken egg with a brighter yolk and beautiful robin's egg blue shell, a poached or soft boiled duck egg makes a delicious brunch dish when served with grilled asparagus and a garnish of shaved pecorino. Fast and easy, Grilled Asparagus with Soft Boiled Duck Eggs are also a lower fat vegetarian alternative to traditional Eggs Benedict, and takes full advantage of locally grown Ontario asparagus, so plentiful at this time of year.

Grilled Asparagus & Soft Boiled Duck Egg with Shaved Pecorino
Serves 2

2 bunches fresh asparagus
2 duck eggs
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
salt & pepper
shaved pecorino or manchego cheese

Carefully place the duck eggs into boiling water and then turn the heat down to medium high. Boil for 6 or 7 minutes depending on the size of your duck egg. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and put into the boiling water with the egg for 2 or 3 minutes.

Preheat your grill to hot and place the blanched asparagus on a sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, roll to coat evenly then put under the grill for a few minutes to brown slightly. Rolling to cook the other side half way through. After 6 minutes drain the water out of the pan and run the cold tap over the egg in the pan until cool enough to handle. Roll the egg gently on your counter to break the shell and peel the egg.

Transfer the asparagus to a plate with a slotted spoon, drizzle with little more olive oil, squeeze over some lemon juice and place the egg on top. With a knife cut into your egg to reveal the soft centre, season the egg with salt and pepper and then finish off the dish by shaving over some manchego or parmesan. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lobster Salad with Avocado, Mango & Chives

A luscious combination of diced avocado, ripe mango, chopped yellow and red peppers and slivered scallions tossed in a light and flavourful lemony mayonnaise mixed with crunchy celery, minced shallots and chopped chives come together so deliciously, the succulent flavour of the fresh lobster positively shines. A local Toronto chef generously gave me this fabulous Lobster Salad with Avocado & Mango recipe, after imploring him to divulge the secret ingredients. His original recipe made enough to serve about 200 people, so he kindly adjusted the quantities for a more intimate gathering, so now it's possible to create this sensational summertime Lobster Salad at home. 

Lobster Salad with Avocado, Mango & Chives
Serves 4-6 

2/3 cup mayonnaise 
1 tsp lemon zest 
1 lemon, juiced 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
1/4 cup each of yellow and red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup of scallion, finely chopped
2 live lobsters 
1/2 cup ripe mangoes, diced
1/2 cup avocados, diced drizzled with lemon juice
Lemon slices, for garnish 

Plunge 2 live lobsters headfirst into an 8-quart pot of boiling salted water. Loosely cover the pot and cook lobsters over moderately high heat for 9 minutes, then transfer with tongs to the sink to cool. While the lobsters are cooking, combine the mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper, shallot, celery, and chives in a bowl. When the lobsters are cool, remove the meat from the claws, tails and joints. Discard the tomalley, roe and shells, or save for another use. Cut the tail meat into 1/2-inch pieces and leave the claws whole. Add the lobster meat to the mayonnaise mixture and combine the rest of the ingredients, cutting the avocados at the very last, to avoid it from discolouration. Check the seasoning and serve chilled over a bed of lettuce, or in individual Martini glasses.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chu Chi Goong: Thai Shrimp in Spicy Coconut Milk

King prawns in a rich red curry sauce with coconut milk, Chu Chi Goong is one of the most well loved curries in northern Thailand. Although large tiger prawns are typically used, a combination of jumbo shrimp and scallops are also excellent. Inspired by a recipe from The Young Thailand Cookbook by Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu, I also added sliced bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and bright green peas for added colour and texture. Garnished with finely sliced Kaffir lime leaves, sweet red pepper, fresh basil and served with fragrant Jasmin rice, this luscious curry is full flavoured with just enough heat to make it interesting. 

Thai Shrimp in Spicy Coconut Milk
Serves 2-4
Adapted from The Young Thailand Cookbook

3 lime leaves
4 cups unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
15 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup bamboo shoot strips, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water chestnuts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup green peas, frozen
2 1/2 cups steamed Jasmin rice

15 whole fresh basil leaves
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced

Slice the lime leaves as thinly as possible — thread-like is best — and reserve. Heat 2 cups of the coconut milk in a large saucepan on high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium, add the red curry paste and stir to dissolve, cooking for 1-2 minutes until the oil of the coconut milk rises to the surface. Add the sugar, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and half of the reserved lime leaf. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the fish sauce and final 2 cups of coconut milk. Turn the heat up to maximum and stir-cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and green peas, and stir into the sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp have just turned opaque and the oil of the coconut milk has once again risen to the surface. Remove from the heat, and transfer to a warm serving dish and garnish with the remaining lime leaves, basil and strips of red pepper. Serve immediately with steamed Jasmin rice.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Grilled Seafood Salad with Shrimp, Scallops & Squid

One of my favourite salads to make summer rolls around, is my delicious Grilled Seafood Salad with tiger shrimp, jumbo scallops and calamari combined with grilled asparagus, fresh sliced avocado and chilled new potatoes. Tossed with a tangy marinade, the seafood can be cleaned and prepped well in advance and pulled together at the last minute. As with any summer salad, spontaneity is key, adding whatever ingredients are readily available. The idea is to compose a fresh and flavourful hastle-free salad with a treasure trove of grilled seafood and a riot of your favourite veggies nestled on top, for an easy evening meal ideal for when the warm weather finally arrives for good.

Grilled Seafood Salad
Serves 4

10 large tiger shrimp
4 large scallops
4 whole squid with heads, cleaned
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
8 baby potatoes, boiled until just done, and halved
1 lb asparagus, with ends trimmed
1 head red oak leaf lettuce, cleaned, washed and torn into bite size pieces
1/4 english cucumber, thinly sliced
2 marinated roasted red peppers, julienned
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp pure sesame oil
1 tsp hot chili oil
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh basil pesto 
Parmesan-Reggiano, shaved as garnish, optional

Salad dressing:
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail intact. Gently run a small knife down the centre of the backs to butterfly the shrimp. Coat with 2 tablespoons of basil pesto and allow to marinate, covered in a small bowl or plastic bag, for at least an hour.

Place the squid on a cutting board and slice each tube in half lengthwise. Lay each of the pieces of squid flat. Score the squid with diagonal slices, cutting through half the thickness, scoring first one way, then the other to create diamond-shaped cuts. Then trim the heads, removing and discarding the beak of the squid. Coat with 1 tsp of hot chili oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the salad dressing, place the garlic in a food processor and pulse a few times until minced. Add the other ingredients and pulse until emulsified. Cover and set aside. 

Place the scallops and asparagus in two separate bowls, brush the scallops with sesame oil and the asparagus with the olive oil, cover and set aside.

To grill the seafood, place the shrimp, squid, scallops and asparagus on a preheated BBQ and cook until the seafood is opaque and nicely grill marked, and the asparagus is cooked through. The squid and heads should curl up nicely.

To prepare the salad, place the lettuce, cucumber and salad dressing in a large bowl and toss to combine. To serve, place the dressed salad on a large platter, then on top, decoratively arrange the boiled new potatoes, marinated red peppers and tomatoes, then top with the grilled asparagus and seafood. Using a vegetable peeler, garnish with some shaved Parmesan-Reggiano if desired.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rick's Spicy Nero di Seppia Spaghetti with Squid

How wonderful to be invited away for a fabulous culinary, cultural and wine tasting weekend in the heart of Niagara's spectacular winemaking region, by our good friend Rick who treated us to his fabulous Spicy Nero di Seppia Spaghetti with Squid before heading out to Stratus Winery for a Bravo Niagara concert featuring celebrated award winning Jazz Trumpeter and Vocalist Jumaane Smith. Best known as the lead trumpeter for international Canadian superstar Michael Bublé, Smith performed to a small audience as he debuted his album 'I Only Have Eyes For You.' Warm and down to earth, Jumaane won over the crowd with his stellar performance of old Jazz standards and new personal compositions. Opening the concert was acclaimed singer, songwriter and 2010 Juno Award winner, Dominic Mancuso who is scheduled to appear again in the upcoming 2016 season of Bravo Niagara — a performance not to be missed — just like Rick's outstanding Spicy Nero di Seppia Spaghetti with Squid!

Jumaane Smith on stage with Robi Botos on piano and Mike Downes on double bass
photo courtesy Bravo Niagara

Jumaane's recent CD "I Only Have Eyes for You'

Calimari marinating in honey, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper

Diced soppresetta cooked until golden, about 2-3 minutes

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

One fiery hot Thai red chili, seeded and finely minced

A colourful selection of grape tomatoes sautéed in a little olive oil until they sizzle and pop, about 3 minutes

The shallots and thai chili are added to the pan and sautéed until tender, about 3 minutes

The squid, tomatoes and pasta sauce ingredients are all combined once cooked and set over low heat while the pasta is cooking

Nero di seppia spaghetti is cooked until al dente

Rick's Spicy Nero di Seppia Spaghetti with Squid
Serves 4

10 oz squid, bodies and tentacles
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 oz thickly sliced soppressata salami, chopped
2 cups grape tomatoes — yellow, red and purple
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 Thai red chili, seeded and finely minced - optional
1/3 cup white wine
2 tbsp chopped capers
10 oz nero di seppia spaghetti
1/2 cup fresh baby basil leaves

Clean the squid and pat dry. Chop the bodies into 1/2-inch dice, leaving the tentacles whole and place in a large bowl. Stir in the honey, garlic, 1 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper, and allow to marinate at room temperature while preparing the other ingredients.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the remaining oil and soppressata. Cook until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes, and spoon onto a plate. Return the pan to heat and add the tomatoes. Cook for 3 minutes or until they begin to pop and sizzle and the skin becomes soft. Transfer the tomatoes to the plate with soppressata. Return the pan to heat and add the squid. Cook for 1 minute then remove from the pan and reserve on a warm plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots and minced chili to the skillet. Cook for 3 minutes, or until tender. Add the wine and capers to the pan and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute or until reduced by half, then remove from heat. Return the tomatoes to the pan along with soppressata and squid, and keep warm over very low heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain. Add the spaghetti to the skillet over low heat. Toss to combine with the squid mixture, adding enough pasta water to coat the noodles. Stir in the basil and divide between 4 plates. Serve with a little grated pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano if you like.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bent: Asian Fusion with Susur Lee & Sons

Nestled a few blocks east of Trinity Bellwoods Park on the corner of Dundas and Markham is Bent, the newest member in Susur Lee's family of restaurants with Lee in charge of the kitchen — helmed by chef de cuisine Bryan Gunness, formerly of Lee — while sons Levi and Kai Bent-Lee step into the spotlight and oversee the dining experience. The space is designed by Lee's wife Brenda Bent, and partner Karen Gable, and is a stark contrast to Lee. The decor here is light, fresh and whimsically retro. The room is relaxed and playful detailed with warm pieces of vintage furniture, like the backgammon-style table tops and vinyl diner-style seating. Crazy touches like vintage Pachinko games — a Japanese arcade game — dot the walls and the terrarium-inspired hostess station adds character and a dash of whimsy to the space. The menu features Asian flavours prepared with European techniques and international flavours prepped with Asian techniques. Plates are small and meant for sharing, and the menu includes offerings from both the hot kitchen and raw bar. The restaurant was positively booming on a Thursday night, and with the symphony of creative and consistently delicious plates coming out of the kitchen, friendly and attentive service and lively atmosphere, it's not surprising it's buzzing every night.

Nestled on a corner at 777 Dundas West, Bent is Susur Lee's newest culinary outpost 

The interior of Bent with trays of fresh herbs on the chef's counter

Vintage Pachinko games add a whimsical design feature to Bent

A terrarium-style hostess desk greets guests as they enter Bent

the back wall of the restaurant is lined with cases of small dolls 

Bent's dinner menu

Hendriks Dry Martini with a slice of cucumber — how predictable!

Ketel One Vodka Martini with an olive

Susur's spectacular Signature Singapore-Style Slaw

Yellowfin Tuna Tataki

Curry Crab and Avocado Salad with watermelon radish, Kaffir lime, sea asparagus, 
and grapefruit pear gelée

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio from the Veneto, Italy

Tempura maki with salmon

Steamed tofu custard pots were served with the salmon tempura maki

Roasted Diver Scallops with sundried tomato crust and caper and rasin compote, yuzu squash purée, parsnip purée, and sea asparagus with a citrus tarragon butter sauce

Vietnamese Seafood Ceviche with shrimp, scallops, octopus, mussels, jalapeño, Asian pear, red pepper, celery, potatoes, fresh citrus juice...

...served with Char Siu Buckwheat Rice cakes

Striploin with sweet potato ravioli in a roasted garlic and parsley velouté

Bent Café Americano made with their special roast —Brooklyn Smack!

Susur Lee's Signature Singapore-Style Slaw
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

2 green onions, both white and green parts, julienned
2 oz rice vermicelli, broken into 3 pieces
3 oz taro root, julienned
1 large English cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
1 cup daikon, peeled and julienned
2 large Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
4 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp pickled ginger
6 tsp crushed roasted peanuts
4 tsp edible flower petals
4 tsp fennel seedlings
4 tsp purple basil seedlings
4 tsp coriander seedlings
4 tsp daikon sprouts
4 tsp fried shallots

Pickled Red Onion:
1 red onion
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

Salted Plum Dressing:
1 cup salted preserved plums, pitted
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp Dashi Japanese cooking stock
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp sea salt

For the pickled red onion, peel and julienne the red onion and set aside in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Season with salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaf and thyme; continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Pour mixture over onion while hot and let sit for 1 hour.

For the plum dressing, combine the plum paste, vinegar, mirin, Dashi, onion oil, sugar, ginger and salt in a blender and purée until smooth, then set aside.

Soak the green onion in very cold water to keep crisp. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of oil. When temperature reaches 400°F, deep fry the julienned taro root, half the amount at a time, for 2 minutes until crisp and light gold in colour.
Remove the slices from the oil, place on paper towel and lightly salt.

At the same temperature, quickly deep fry the vermicelli, half at a time, for 2 seconds, or until they curl. Remove the vermicelli from the oil, place on paper towel and lightly salt.

Remove the julienned green onion from bowl and drain. Divide the vermicelli equally between 4 plates and arrange the green onion, cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon, tomatoes and pickled red onion around the noodles and top with a tall mound of fried taro root.

Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and crushed peanuts over each salad. In a small bowl, combine the edible flower petals, seedlings, sprouts and fried shallots. Sprinkle the flower-sprout-shallot mixture on each salad and serve with salted plum dressing alongside.

Chinese New Year Pearl Noodles
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Susur Lee, Bent

2/3 cup julienned bean sprouts
2/3 cup carrot
2/3 cup julienned Spanish onion
2/3 cup julienned shiitake mushroom
2/3 cup julienned leek
2/3 cup julienned celery
2/3 cup shredded soybean cake
2 tbsp XO sauce
3 tsp oyster sauce
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
4 large eggs
12 oz pearl noodles
Coriander sprigs, for garnish
1 red chile, seeded and sliced into rounds, for garnish (optional)

Blanch the vegetables and soybean cake together, then set aside. For the sauce, mix together XO sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In a thick non-stick pan or wok, heat the olive oil, then scramble the eggs with noodles  — sautéing the noodles and eggs together helps avoid the noodles sticking to wok. Add the sauce, then the vegetables and sauté for 3 minutes. Garnish with coriander and chile, if using.

Roasted Scallops with Sundried Tomato Crust
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Susur Lee, Bent

Carrot Purée:
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup water
Salt to taste

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp each chipotle powder and paprika
1 tbsp each fresh parsley, garlic and shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup panko
18 large fresh scallops

Tarragon Beurre Blanc:
2 tbsp each white wine vinegar and dry white wine
1 tbsp shallots, finely minced
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
Salt and white pepper

Sugar snap peas and white asparagus spears,
blanched Handful of raisins, plumped

Bring purée ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes until tender. Uncover and simmer until liquid evaporates. Discard bay leaf. When cool enough, whirl in a blender until puréed.

In a small food processor, blend butter, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice, chipotle, paprika, parsley, garlic, shallot and salt. Scrape down sides as needed. Stir in panko. Place mixture between 2 pieces of parchment paper, gently roll out to ½-cm thickness and place on a lined cookie sheet. Using a shot glass, cut out coins and freeze until firm.

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, drizzle scallops with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

To prepare beurre blanc, simmer vinegar, wine and shallots in a saucepan until reduced to 1 tbsp. Remove from heat and whisk in two pieces of butter. Return to low heat and whisk in remaining butter, one piece a time. Add tarragon, salt and pepper.

In batches, sear scallops over medium-high heat for 1 minute per side until golden. Remove to a baking sheet. Place a butter coin on each scallop. Roast at 375°F for 4 to 5 minutes. Drizzle carrot purée and beurre blanc over plate. Top with scallops, blanched peas and asparagus, and raisins.

TIP To save time, roll butter mixture into a 3-cm-thick log using plastic wrap. Seal tightly. Freeze until firm. Slice into 1/2-cm-thick coins just before using. The mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Susur’s Jerk Chicken
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Susur Lee, Bent

The ingredients in this recipe can be tripled, if necessary, depending on the size of chicken or turkey you are using. Lee suggests extending the marinating time to three days for turkey.

Spicy Mango Salsa:
3 tbsp finely diced sweet onion
2 cups diced ripe mango
1/4 tsp finely sliced habanero chili
1 tsp fresh mint
1 stalk fresh coriander
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp brown sugar or honey
Sea salt, to taste

1 whole chicken, about 3 lb
4 whole cloves of garlic
4 pieces fresh ginger, each 1 inch
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup Jamaican jerk spice (available at Lee and Bent)

For the salsa, soak the onion in water for five to 10 minutes, then drain well. In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours, to allow the flavours to develop, until ready to serve.

In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic, ginger, oil, salt and jerk spice. Rub the mixture inside and outside of the bird. Place in a large plastic bag and marinate in fridge for up to 2 days, or longer if using a bigger bird. Heat the oven to 400°F and roast the chicken for 1 hour or until internal temperature reaches 165°F. Serve with Spicy Mango Salsa.