Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Scalloped Potatoes with Cream & Cheddar

One of the ultimate comfort foods, Scalloped Potatoes must be one of our favourite side dishes, especially when we're expecting a large group of ravenous friends for dinner. Rich, creamy and full of flavour, there are many versions of this classic gratin. My Mom used to make it using a can of Campbell's mushroom soup. Although we often add sliced onions, grated cheese, nutmeg or fresh thyme, our core recipe starts with sliced russet potatoes layered in a garlic rubbed baking dish, smothered in a combination of whole milk and cream then dotted with a butter. If I use onions and cheese, I add them with each layer of potato then cover with the cream mixture and top with a final flurry of grated cheese and sprigs of fresh thyme. Baked in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours until the potatoes are bubbling and golden brown, the wonderful aroma will entice guests into the kitchen well before the dinner bell rings.

Scalloped Potatoes
Serves 6

3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 lb yellow potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely sliced
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
1/4 tsp ground white and black pepper

Preheat oven to 325°F with a rack set in the lower third of oven. Rinse the sliced potatoes in cold water and pat dry in a towel. Rub a shallow earthenware dish with the garlic cloves and butter well. Arrange the sliced potatoes and onions in layers in the baking dish, starting with a layer of onions on the bottom, and season with salt and pepper. Dot with the remaining butter, pour the cream overtop and finish with grated cheddar over the assembled gratin. Transfer the baking dish to oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours. During the last 10 minutes, turn the heat up to 400°F to brown the top of the potatoes so that they become golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let the dish stand for 5 minutes, before serving the scalloped potatoes directly from the baking dish.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Swordfish Teriyaki with Bok Choy & Soba Noodles

Teriyaki is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine in which foods are broiled or grilled with a glaze of soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. The word 'teriyaki' comes from the word 'teri', which refers to a shine or lustre given by the sugar content in the 'tare', which is boiled and reduced to the desired thickness, then used to marinate the meat or fish. 'Yaki' refers to the cooking method of grilling or broiling, where the meat is dipped in or brushed with sauce several times during cooking, which allows the sugars in the sauce to caramelize, for a deep, rich full-bodied flavour. Many kinds of teriyaki sauce are sold in grocery stores, but the basic sauce is so easy to make from scratch, and can be used to baste fish, chicken, vegetables and other fish all year round. This recipe for Swordfish Teriyaki is delicious served with some steamed bok choy and cold Soba Noodles, to soak up the lovely sauce.

Swordfish Teriyaki with Chilled Soba Noodles & Bok Choy
Serves 2

2 swordfish fillets
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup mirin
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 small bok choy, trimmed and steamed
2 green onions, sliced, for garnish
1 tbsp sesame seeds, for garnish
1 slice of orange, for garnish
1 handful pea shoot microgreens, for garnish

Chilled Soba Noodles:
2 3.5-ounce bundles of dried buckwheat soba noodles
3/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1/4 orange, juiced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup scallions, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 tsp sesame seeds, plus more for garnish

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles for 5-7 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool. Add all of the ingredients together in a medium size bowl and stir to combine. Add the cold noodles, cover and refrigerate one hour. The flavours will meld and the noodles will absorb the flavourful liquid. Just before serving, garnish with extra chopped scallions and sesame seeds.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger and garlic. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture becomes slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Place the swordfish in a shallow baking dish. Pour half of the teriyaki sauce over the fish and refrigerate for 1 hour. Reserve the remaining the sauce.

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Remove the swordfish from the teriyaki sauce, letting any excess drip off, and place on the baking sheet. Cook until the swordfish is almost cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Brush the top of the fish with the reserved sauce and garnish with green onion, sesame seeds. Serve with the chilled soba noodles and some steamed bok choy garnished with sliced orange and microgreens.

Monday, February 26, 2018

El Local Loco Taberna Mexicana: Brunch Benedictos

El Local Loco is a new Mexican restaurant from Ted Koutsogiannopoulos, the same restaurateur as The Loaded Pierogi, next door to the Taberna on lower Church Street. Opened for just a few monthes, El Loco offers lunch and dinner, but the brunch menu is arguably the most unique with Mexican-inspired 'Eggs Benedictos' from Loco with strip bacon, chipotle aioli, Cotija and fresh avocado to Benedictos Langosta with whole grilled lobster tail with pico de gallo and avocado, each served with crispy home fries and cilantro hollandaise on English muffins. The eggs are perfectly cooked, the home fries utterly addictive, and with half price glasses of fruity Sangria, El Loco may just become our local Sunday hangout. 

Located on lower Church Street, El Local Loco Taverna Mexicana just opened in December 2017

Interior with Mexican tile bar, wood flooring and exposed brick walls

Sunday Bruch menu of El Local Loco Taverna Mexicana on Church

Table setting with handmade Mexican pottery

Red Sangria

Loco Benedictos with strip bacon, chipotle aioli, cotija and fresh avocado

Benedictos Langosta with grilled whole lobster tail, Pico de Gallo and avocado

Friday, February 23, 2018

Momofuku Daishō: Until We Meet Again...

Located on the third floor of the grand Momofuku glass cube complex adjacent to the Shangri-La Hotel, Daishō has specialized in shared plates and large format family-style feasts since opening in 2012. Of all David Chang's Momofuku Toronto concepts — which includes the Noodle Bar, Nikai and Shōtō — Daishō has the most extensive menu which changes often, based on market availability and inspired by the diversity of Ontario's native ingredients and showcasing the best of Canadian farms from the east to west coast. Sleek and minimalist, with blond wood tables and completely encased in glass, the room’s vaulted ceiling is dominated by a grand finned structure made of white oak — suggestive of giant ramen noodles — not only brings warmth to the minimalistic space but serves as an elegant beacon along Toronto's University Avenue. Arriving for dinner before the opera, we wanted to take advantage of our last meal at Daishō before it closes on February 25 along with our beloved Shōtō, to make room for the launch of a new restaurant concept that will span the building's entire third floor. The noodle bar on the ground floor will remain intact, but the upper-level restaurants are closing before debuting the new layout and concept sometime in Spring 2018, and to be spearheaded by Executive Chef Paula Navarrete. 

Seated at a small table for two along the 3-storey bank of windows overlooking University Avenue, we began our last dinner at Daishō with cocktails: a Fitzgerald with gin, lemon and bitters, and Vespa martini along with a complimentary plate of crunchy pickled cucumbers. Featured on the evening's menu, we began with Daishō's delectable Buttermilk Biscuits served with garlic butter and a spicy chili honey, and 
Chicken Buns with ssäm sauce, pickled carrots and scallion. As entrées we shared the Grilled Miami Ribs with turnip cake, ginger scallion and pickled daikon, and Crusted Cod with caramelized onion dashi, mustard greens and wasabi peas, along with Rice Cakes with spicy pork sausage, chinese broccoli and tofu, and a complimentary bowl of Brussels Sprouts with fish sauce, puffed rice and mint. Having ordered way too much, we were then treated to impromptu glasses of French Vermouth is frosted glasses by Beverage Manager Steve Sousa from Shōtō, who recognized us from Valentine's Dinner the week before. A wonderfully kind gesture, we are always taken impressed at how friendly the staff are at these two restaurants. With its fabulous views, soft lighting, friendly professional service, creative wine and dinner menu, Daishō continues to be one of our favourite restaurants in the city, and we hope Momofuku keeps the culinary and staff magic for which both restaurants have become so well known.

Executive chef Paula Navarrete of Momofuku Daishō, will be spearheading the upcoming culinary direction of the entire third floor, which will become one unified dining space

Daishō Dinner menu

Vespa Martini with vodka, gin and vermouth, made famous from Casino Royale

Fitzgerald cocktail made with gin, lemon and bitters

Crunchy pickled cucumbers

Chicken Bun with ssäm sauce, pickled carrots and scallion

Buttermilk Biscuits with garlic butter and chili honey

2015 Loureiro, Aphros, Vinho Verde from Portugal 

2016 Malbec, Château Les Croisille ‘Le Croisillon’ from Cahors, France

Brussels Sprouts with fish sauce, puffed rice and mint 

Rice Cakes with spicy pork sausage, chinese broccoli and tofu

Grilled Miami Ribs with turnip cake, ginger scallion and pickled daikon

Crusted Cod with caramelized onion dashi, mustard greens and wasabi peas

Frosted glass of Dolin Vermouth Blanc from Steve Sousa from Shōtō, 
who remembered us from Valentine's Dinner

Honey-Soy-Glazed Vegetables with Crispy Mushrooms
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of David Chang

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp canola oil 
1 lb medium turnips, cut into 3/4-inch wedges 
1 lb medium radishes, quartered 
1/4 cup honey 
2 tbsp soy sauce 
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice 
1/2 lb Swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves coarsely chopped 
2 tbsp molasses 
2 tbsp water 
6 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and caps quartered 
1/2 lb Asian rice crackers, pulverized

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the turnips and radishes and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until lightly browned and crisp-tender, 10 minutes. Add the honey and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the vegetables are glazed, 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce and cook until syrupy, 5 minutes longer. Add the lemon juice and the Swiss chard, and cook until the chard is wilted, 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, 2 minutes longer; keep warm.

In a medium bowl, whisk the molasses with the water and season with salt. Add the shiitake and toss to coat. Drain the mushrooms, squeezing out most of the excess liquid. In a separate bowl, toss the mushrooms with the rice cracker crumbs, pressing to help the crumbs adhere.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil until shimmering. Add the coated mushrooms and cook over high heat, turning once, until golden and crisp, 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Top the vegetables with the mushrooms and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Café Boulud in Yorkville: French Brasserie Classics

Michelin-star chef Daniel Boulud’s French Brasserie in Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville, Café Boulud, serves a seasonally changing menu rooted in French tradition, highlighting both bistro classics and contemporary dishes inspired by Chef Daniel’s family meals in Lyon, executed with finesse by chef de cuisine and longtime Boulud protegé Sylvain Assié. The newly redesigned dining room by London-based designer Martin Brudnizki — acclaimed as one of the world’s top restaurant designers known for bringing a lived-in luxury to his projects such as J Sheekey, Le Caprice and The Ivy in London — is comfortable and sophisticated with luxurious yet understated details like Hermès wallpaper, Ralph Lauren sconces, retro walnut panelling, mod Jaguar green and tan leather banquets and rich oxblood red 1950s-style chairs, which evoke a playfulness as well as elegance to the space, inviting guests to sit back and surrender to Daniel and Sylvain's rustic yet meticulously executed bistro classics.

The heart of the menu is traditionally French, offering dishes that both Chef Boulud and Chef Assié grew up with in the countryside of France, such as Quenelle de Brochet, northern pike with a cognac Nova Scotia lobster sauce; Boudin Blanc, truffled white sausage, caramelized onions, apple and mashed potatoes; Crispy skinned Confit de Canard, slow-cooked périgord style with sautéed potato and parsley salad; Frisée Lyonnaise with chicken livers, poached egg, lardons and sourdough croutons; and a selection of handsome Hand-Cut Tartares. Seafood, including a Plateau de Fruits de Mer featuring oysters, shrimp, clams, mussels and tuna tartare, is sourced from Canada's two coasts whenever possible and will rotate on the menu according to the season. Rotisserie is a star of the menu with slow-roasted chicken, lobster and potatoes cooked over the open flames of the restaurants prized Rotisol, made by the oldest rotisserie factory in France. Equally impressive is Café Boulud's emphasis on charcuterie with a program led by master charcutier Gilles Verot, with a selection of housemade terrines and pâtés. Verot, originally from the Loire Valley and a third-generation Gallic charcutier, is the legend behind the charcuterie at Boulud's restaurants from London to New York, Boston and Toronto. There are also fabulous desserts, such as the show-stopping Soufflé Grand Marnier with orange crème anglaise and the equally indulgent Dark Chocolate Profiteroles, are a sweet finalé to a delightful evening. “This menu is without a doubt very French in its that I like to eat and...that people will want to come back to enjoy again and again.”

Café Boulud tablesetting with dish towel-style napkins

Fabulous fresh baked bread from Marc Thuet

Whipped artichoke spread

Our server arriving with our gorgeous Domaine Virginie Thunevin 2015 Bordeaux 

Gilles Verot Charcuterie Board with chef’s selection of house-made cured meats, terrines, pickles
and toasted sourdough, including pâté du campaign, pâté du canard, fromage de tête, 
and pâté Grandmère 

Master charcutier Gilles Verot and owner of Maison Verot in Paris

Gilles Verot pot au feu à la moutarde douce

Confit du Canard with slow cooked cured duck leg, apricot
spinach, turnip and parsley salad

Poulet à la Broche: chicken rotisserie with potatoes and watercress salad

Fresh rosemary is used to brush duck fat on the chicken which makes the dish "à la broche"

Boudin Blanc: truffled white pork sausage, caramelized onions, apple and mashed potato

Birthday madeleines for our two birthday "boys"

Daniel Boulud

Chilled Spring Pea Soup
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of chef Daniel Boulud

8 slices of bacon 
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced 
1 onion, thinly sliced 
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced 
5 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth 
Two 4-inch rosemary sprigs 
Salt and freshly ground white pepper 
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, thinly sliced 
Two 10-ounce boxes frozen baby peas 
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves 
1 cup heavy cream 
1 garlic clove, minced

In a medium soup pot, cook the bacon over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate. Pour off the fat in the pot.

In the same pot, heat the olive oil. Add the celery, onion and leek and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add the chicken stock, 4 slices of the cooked bacon, 1 rosemary sprig and a pinch each of salt and white pepper. Simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the bacon and rosemary. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a blender.

Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the sugar snaps and cook for 3 minutes. Add the frozen baby peas and the parsley and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute; drain. Add the sugar snaps, baby peas and parsley to the blender and puree until smooth, adding a few tablespoons of the broth to loosen the mixture. Transfer the soup and the remaining broth to a large bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water to cool.
In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream, garlic and remaining rosemary sprig to a boil. Simmer over low heat until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Strain the garlic cream into a bowl and let cool.
Ladle the chilled pea soup into bowls and drizzle with the garlic cream. Crumble the remaining 4 slices of bacon into each bowl and serve. Note: The soup and cream can be refrigerated separately for up to 2 days.

Daniel Boulud Madeleines
Makes 6 dozen mini madeleines
Recipe courtesy of chef Daniel Boulud

3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp honey
1 tsp packed light brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and warm
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, eggs, honey, brown sugar, and lemon zest. Add the our mixture and combine. Stir in the melted butter until incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter for 1 hour or overnight. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Liberally spray a nonstick 24-mini or 12-standard madeleine mold with cooking spray. Scrape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. Pipe the molds two-thirds full, using about 1 tsp. of batter for each mini mold and 2 tablespoons of batter for each standard mold. For mini madeleines, bake until their centers rise and the edges are golden brown, about 4 minutes, rotating the mold halfway through the baking. Bake the standard madeleines for 5 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°F, rotate the mold, and continue baking until the centers rise and the edges are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and tap the mold gently against a counter to release the madeleines. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm. Repeat to make additional batches.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lai Wah Heen: Celebrating Chinese New Year

An ancient festival with thousands of years of history, Chinese New Year is celebrated by countless cultures around the world, with each year characterized by one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac — 2018 being 'Year of the Dog', which brings luck and abundance to those born under this sign. Certain dishes are served during the Lunar New Year for their symbolic meaning, such as dumplings, spring rolls, seafood and noodles, which symbolize happiness and longevity. Lai Wah Heen, which stands for "luxurious meeting place," specializes in high-end Chinese cuisine, which is where we decided to celebrate Chinese New Year with my brother and sister-in-law. We launched the festivities with chef Sam Tse's trio of Dim Sum appetizers and a whole Peking Duck, which was served in two courses. The whole duckling is fried until it's glistening, crisp and golden brown then carved and served with finely shredded scallion and cucumber on steamed rice crepes with sweet hoisin sauce. The second course was Chopped Rainbow in Crystal Fold, which is the wok-fried minced duckling meat served with assorted vegetables, fried noodles and wrapped in crispy fresh lettuce leaves. We followed with classic Braised E-Fu Noodles with crabmeat, Crispy Shiitake Mushrooms with honey sauce glaze, Jumbo Prawns, Scallops and Oysters in spicy wine sauce, Gai Lan Chinese Broccoli, and Stir-Fried Sliced Beef flavoured with aged mandarin peel. Kung hei fat choy!

Entrance to Lai Wah Heen with small waterfall

Linen tablesetting with chopsticks and spoon on dragon cutlery stand

Lai Wah Heen menu of Szechuan, Hunan and Cantonese dishes

Original collection of Chinese calligraphy by renowned Southeast Asian artist Cheung Ming

Beige and black dining room with 12 foot ceilings divided into two levels by wide black granite steps and a solarium-style glass wall

Sing Tao beer

Homemade Spicy Hot sauce

Lai Wah Heen premium Dim Sum platter trio with Har Gow shrimp dumpling and 
Siu Mai beef and pork dumpling

Deep-fried spring roll filled with mixed vegetable and mushroom

Crispy shrimp roll served with a sweet hawthorn sauce

Our second course, Peking Duck carved table side 

Sliced Peking Duck served with finely shredded scallion and cucumber on steamed rice crepes 
with sweet hoisin sauce

The second Peking Duck course: Chopped Rainbow in Crystal Fold of wok-fried minced duckling, assorted vegetables and fried noodles wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves

Crispy Shiitake Mushrooms with honey sauce glaze

Classic braised e-fu noodles with crabmeat

Wok-baked jumbo prawns, scallops and oysters in spicy wine sauce

Gai Lan Chinese broccoli 

Stir-fried sliced beef flavored with aged mandarin peel

Deep-fried sesame ball stuffed with pickled ginger and lotus seed paste

Chinese New Year E-Fu Noodles
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Ronny Lam, Lai Wah Heen

7 oz package e-fu noodles (fried and dried egg noodles)
3 Chinese black shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps very thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled, cut in matchsticks
10 snow peas, trimmed, cut in matchsticks
3 tbsp canola oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp oyster sauce 
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mushroom-flavoured dark soy sauce
1 tsp granulated sugar

In large wok or saucepan half-filled with boiling water on high heat, cook noodles, stirring and pushing under water, until they soften and thicken slightly about 60 to 90 seconds. Drain in colander. Let stand to dry well. Add several cups water to wok or saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat then add the mushrooms, carrots and snow peas. Cook for 1 minute and drain.

Add oil to a wok or large non-stick skillet and heat over high. Add the noodles in one clump. Cook, undisturbed 1 minute to brown bottom. Using a spatula, carefully flip and cook another minute, then transfer to a plate. Add the mushroom mixture to the wok or skillet and cook 30 seconds. Add the stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, mushroom soy sauce and sugar. It will quickly come to a boil. Add the noodles and cook, stirring and tossing with tongs or chopsticks, until the noodles absorb most of the sauce, about 3 minutes. Transfer the noodle mixture to platter with tongs and serve drizzled with any remaining sauce.