Friday, March 30, 2018

Moules Marinières: A French Brasserie 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!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Tagliatelle with Marinara Sauce & Meatballs

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. 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 star of this dish are the meatballs, and in this case — size does matter. 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 pasta, 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 Italian-style comfort food on a cold winter's evening.

Tagliatelle Marinara & Meatballs
Serves 6

1 1/2 lb tagliatelle, cooked al dente according to package directions
Freshly grated Pecorino
6 sprigs fresh thyme, for garnish

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

Marinara 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

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 a mound of perfectly cooked tagliatelle, garnish with some fresh thyme and pass the grated Pecorino. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Crab Rangoon: Trader Vic's Crab Wonton Pupu

These crisp fried wontons with a creamy crabmeat filling were a family favourite of ours when we used to go to Trader Vic's at the bottom of the Hilton Hotel in London, in the 70's and 80's. We'd always start with the pupu platter, which included Crispy Prawns, Char Su Pork, BBQ Spare Ribs and Crab Rangoon. Although some recipes suggest these wontons can be baked, I find they're much flakier, more delicate and soul satisfying deep-fried. Not the healthiest of appetizers, they're a decadent treat and the ideal pupu for a Polynesian-inspired Tiki evening with Ma Tai's and listening to the beautiful music of the late great Hawaiian singer, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. 

Crab Rangoon Wontons
Makes 36

8 oz cream cheese
8 oz crabmeat, drained, squeezed dry and flaked
2 tsp A1 Steak Sauce
1 large egg
1/3 cup scallions, finely chopped
36 wonton wrappers, 4-inches square
1/4 cup water
4 cups vegetable oil, for deep-frying

In a medium bowl, combine the crab, cream cheese, A1 sauce, egg and chopped scallions, and mix well with a wooden spoon until smooth. 

To make the wontons, lay a wrapper on a clean dry surface and using your finger, moisten all four edges with water. Place a rounded teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each wonton wrapper. To seal, press 2 opposing corners together over the middle of the filling and crisp  sealing the wonton to create a triangle. Then bring the other opposing corners to meet the top of the triangle and crimp all of the edges to form a small pyramid — it should look like an X-shape looking down on it. Repeat with the remaining wontons and filling.

To deep fry the wontons, heat 3-4-inches of oil in a saucepan over medium-high until the heat registers 375°. Fry the wontons for 10-20 seconds or until they become crisp and golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove immediately and drain on paper towels. 

The wontons can be filled, folded at refrigerated up to a few hours or day in advance, but are best enjoyed immediately once they're deep-fried. They can however be kept warm in a single layer on a baking rack set on a baking sheet in a 250° oven for up to 30 minutes, which is what I did, and they were delicious.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Cassoulet Castelnaudray: Guy's 2018 Labour of Love

The history of cassoulet is a history of Languedoc, and long associated with three ancient cities: Toulouse, Castelnaudary, and Carcassonne that lie along the tree-lined Canal du Midi in southwestern France. Traditionally, each of these towns has its own version of the dish, although it's generally acknowledged that cassoulet had its beginnings in Castelnaudary, when during a siege of the town by the Black Prince, Edward the Prince of Wales, in 1355, the besieged towns people gathered their remaining food to create a big stew cooked in a cauldron. A slow-simmered mix of beans, pork sausages, pork shoulder, pancetta, and duck, cassoulet takes its name from the earthenware 'cassol' in which it was traditionally made. The Castelnaudary version is the most rustic and is based largely on pork and pork rind, sausage, and sometimes goose; the Carcassonne variety contains leg of mutton and occasionally partridge; and the cassoulet of Toulouse includes fresh lard, mutton, local Toulouse sausage, and duck or goose. No matter which cassoulet you make, it's important to follow one important rule: use only the very best ingredients. 

This famous bean stew — and 'bean stew' hardly conveys the complexity of its flavours — is subject to much debate about what constitutes a 'true”' cassoulet, for there is likely a different recipe in every kitchen, even in the Langedoc. But Cassoulet is what slow food is all about, and it takes time to prepare. This recipe is one my husband makes each winter, and is his adaptation of Cassoulet Castelnaudray, a rich, authentic, full-bodied feast which he feels is best served around two in the afternoon on a cold snowy weekend and enjoyed with your best friends and a couple bottles of 2005 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. He starts by making his own duck confit a few days before, and uses Toulouse sausage, unsmoked ham hock, pork shoulder, pork belly, pancetta and thick meaty beef short ribs in lieu of lamb, for his 2018 Cassoulet Castelnaudray creation. Made only once a year, it's his labour of love, and we love him for it.

The duck is cut up into legs and breasts and browned thoroughly

Once browned, the duck is placed in a large pan and covered with enough rendered fat to cover then simmered for 2 hours until cooked through

Once cool enough to handle, the duck fat is removed and the duck meat is shredded

The duck fat is reserved for future use

The ham hock is salted two days in advance of making the cassoulet

The beans are covered with water and soaked one day before making the cassoulet

The beans, pancetta and pork belly are brought to a boil and blanched for 10 minutes,
then drained, separated and chilled overnight

An embarrassment of riches — all of the meat required for the cassoulet

Toulouse sausage from The Sausage King by Olliffe, St Lawrence Market

Salt pork from Brandt Meats

Pancetta from Brandt's

Pork Shoulder from Brandt's

Beef short ribs from The Sausage King, which we use instead of lamb

A big slab of pork rind from the St Lawrence Market, which is used to line the cassoulet pot

Toulouse sausage is browned for 10 minutes

The pork shoulder is cut into smaller pieces and browned for 8 to 10 minutes

The ham hock is browned in the same pot, for about 5 minutes

The beef short ribs browned for 8 to 10 minutes

All of the cooked meat is placed in a bowl

The tomatoes are blanched to ease the removal of the skins, then diced

The diced tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and bouquet garni are added 
to the sautéed onions and carrots

All of the meat, spring water and white wine are added to the vegetables 
and simmered for 2 hours

Building the cassoulet begins with a layer of pork rind on the bottom of the pot

Half of the beans are layered on top

The mixture of cooked meats are added on top of the beans

Using your hands ensures that the mixture is spread evenly

The complete layer: Toulouse sausage, duck confit, pork shoulder, 
beef short ribs, pork belly and ham hock

The remainder of the beans are added on top...

...until they cover the meat completely

The reserved broth is poured over the cassoulet until it just reaches the top of the beans

Bread crumbs are sprinkled on top

The bread crumbs are dotted with the remaining 3 tablespoons of duck fat,
and the cassoulet is then baked at 275°F for four hours

The cassoulet after 2 hours in the oven

The final cassoulet, golden brown and perfectly cooked

Two treasured bottles of 2005 Chateau L'Arrosee, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru are ready to be 
decanted and served with lunch

The table is set for the Annual Cassoulet Lunch

Complete with the menu du jour

Cassoulet Castelnaudray à la Guy
Serves 12 

2 lb un-smoked ham hock
1 cup coarse salt 
4 cups dried Great Northern white beans, soaked in water to cover overnight
1/2 lb pork belly
1/4 lb pancetta 
1 lb fresh pork skin 
1/2 cup duck fat from the confit
1 1/2 lb Toulouse sausage
1 3/4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into smaller pieces
1 1/2 lb beef short ribs, trimmed of fat and cut into smaller pieces 
2 medium-size onions, peeled, and each studded with 2 cloves 
1 large carrot, sliced into rounds
1 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Bouquet garni, tied: 10 sprigs fresh parsley, thyme and 2 bay leaves
1 litre bottled spring water, such as Evian
1 litre dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups fresh bread crumbs, made from a French baguette in a food processor

Duck Confit:
2 lb duck, whole
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves, broken
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cups rendered duck fat, purchased in tubs

Making Homemade Duck Confit: 2 Days Before
Carve the duck into pieces, separating the legs, breasts, wings and remaining carcass, then place in a large dish or pan. Mix together the salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves and garlic, and rub thoroughly into the duck meat. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over moderate heat and brown the duck pieces thoroughly, skin side down first, then all over. Once done, place all of the duck into an oven-proof pot in which they fit snuggly as possible, adding the seasonings and enough rendered fat to cover, or almost cover, the meat. We melted 2 two-cup purchased tubs of rendered duck fat to add to the fat from the duck, so that we had enough to cover the meat. Then cook in a low 300°F oven for 2 hours, turning the pieces if duck once or twice during the cooking time. Remove from the oven, cover and leave to cool. Once safe to handle, pour the fat from the confit, tear the duck from the bone and chill both separately in plastic containers until needed.

Curing the Ham Hocks & Soaking the Beans: 2 Days Before
Roll the ham hocks in coarse salt and arrange in a glass or ceramic bowl, then cover and refrigerate for 48 hours, being sure to wash the salt off before adding to the cassoulet. Soak the beans in water to cover overnight. 

Blanching the Beans: 1 Day Before
Drain the beans and bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil. Add the beans, pancetta and pork belly and blanch for 10 minutes, then take off the heat and allow to sit for an a hour. Drain into a colander, removing the pancetta and pork belly from the beans, and dice into smaller pieces; cover and chill overnight. Place the beans in a large bowl; cover and chill overnight. 

Cooking the Meat: Early Morning of Cassoulet Day
Melt 5 tablespoons of duck fat from the confit in a large pot over a medium heat. Pierce the Toulouse sausages with a toothpick (so they don't burst while cooking) and brown for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove the sausages and set aside. Brown the pork shoulder cubes in the same casserole, for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove and set aside. Brown the ham hock in the casserole, about 5 minutes, remove and set aside. Brown the beef short ribs, about 8 to 10 minutes, remove and set aside. 

Preparing the Cassoulet: 
Add the clove-studded onions and sliced carrot to the casserole and cook until the onions turn colour, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, bouquet garni, bottled water, wine and some salt and pepper, to taste. Return all the meats, including the shredded duck to the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the meats are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the ham hock, salt pork, Toulouse sausage, pork shoulder, beef ribs and duck, and using your hands, pull all of the good meat from the bones and reserve in a large bowl. Discard the bones and excess fat from the meat, and slice the sausage into thick rounds. Strain the broth through a colander, discarding the vegetables but saving the broth.

Baking the Cassoulet: 
Preheat the oven to 275°F. Line the bottom of a large 6 to 8-quart casserole, with the flap of pork skin, fat side down. Pour in half of the beans, then top with the meat from the pork shoulder, ham hock, beef ribs, duck confit, pork belly, pancetta and sausages. Cover with the remaining beans. Pour enough of the reserved broth into the casserole until it just reaches the top of the beans. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and dot with the remaining 3 tablespoons of duck fat. Bake, uncovered for 4 hours, until the crust is golden brown, breaking the crust seven times by pushing down slightly with the back of a ladle. Serve immediately with a couple of bottles of red wines from the Languedoc — because you deserve it!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Pork with Creamed Cabbage, Pancetta & Caraway

The humble savoy cabbage is elevated to new heights of glory with this delicious German-style recipe with diced pancetta, chopped onion, fragrant caraway seeds and sour cream. Inspired by my friend Dorothea's comforting creamed cabbage that she often serves with Knödel, traditional German savoury round dumplings, this dish pairs perfectly with roast pork or thick meaty bone-in chops. Served with some sautéed mushrooms, the wonderful combination of flavours in this dish are rich and satisfying, and unbeatable on a cold winter evening.

Grilled Pork Chops with Creamed Cabbage, Pancetta & Caraway Seeds
Serves 2

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 oz pancetta, diced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 small savoy cabbage, about 3/4 lb, cored, and finely shredded
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
2 bone in pork chops
3 oz cremini mushrooms, finely sliced 
2 tbsp butter

Heat a large, deep frying pan with a lid over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until the fat renders and pancetta just starts to crisp. If the pancetta is on the lean side, add about a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add the chopped onion and caraway seeds and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add half of the shredded cabbage to the pan along with 1/2 cup of the broth, the salt, and a couple grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts by half. 

Add the remaining cabbage and broth to pan, stir and cook for another minute, stirring every 20 seconds or so, until the cabbage begins to wilt. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, removing the lid to stir once, until the cabbage is tender but still slightly crunchy. Taste, and add more salt and/or pepper if necessary. Stir in the sour cream. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened.  

As the creamed cabbage is thickening, season the pork chops with salt and pepper and warm a grill pan on medium high with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. When hot, lay the pork chops in the pan and cook until it forms nice grill marks, then flip over and cook until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes depending on the size. 

While the pork chops are cooking, set a sauté pan on medium and melt 2 tablespoons of butter until melted. Add the mushrooms, and cook tossing frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes, then set aside.

To serve, spoon the creamed cabbage in the centre of each plate and top with a pork chop and sautéd mushrooms. Garnish with some chopped parsley and serve immediately. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Peter Pan Bistro: A Queen Street Icon Reborn

A Queen Street West landmark since the 1930s, Peter Pan has been reborn under chef Noah Goldberg, serving bistro-style French and Canadian comfort food in a newly restored space. Thankfully, many of original elements were kept: the wood banquettes, vintage tin ceiling, 20-foot marbletop bar, the façade’s stained-glass windows and iconic pendant lights — and of course they kept the name. Some new elements were introduced to modernize the space, with wall sconces salvaged from Toronto’s defunct Captain John’s seafood restaurant and funky wall tapestries created by London-based English multimedia artist Debbie Lawson, depicting heads of deer, moose and bear fashioned from resin and sandwiched between pieces of carpet. 
Goldberg describes his cuisine as "contemporary Canadiana," with dishes such as Croque Madame, French Onion Soup, Duck Cassoulet with duck confit, pulled pork, toulouse sausage and white beans, and Salt Spring Island Mussel Bouillabaisse with tomato, fennel and sea asparagus. Brunch is served daily on the lunch menu featuring the usual suspects with a twist: Eggs Benedict with Lox, hollandaise, potato latke and salad greens, Roasted Beet Salad with za'atar spiced goats yogurt, puffed rice, watercress, beet chips, Leek Omelette with goat cheese and tomato, and Shakshuka with eggs, tomato, roasted peppers, labne and za'atar. Of course, there's also a burger — The Pan Burger with cheddar cheese, tomato chutney, carmelized onion, worcestershire mayo and frites, and British stalwart, Fish and Chips with beer battered cod served with mushy peas and housemade tartare sauce. With a terrific wine list featuring 'Women Winemakers' and friendly efficient staff, arriving for an early lunch before heading to the AGO to see the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors installation, a quick bite at Peter Pan hit the spot.

Peter Pan Lunch on Queen Street in the 1950s

Many of the original design details of the original Peter Pan were retained during the restoration such as the tin ceilings, polished oak booths, the marble bar top and the gorgeous glass entry

A vase of beautiful yellow forsythia on the marble bar is a sign 
that Spring is just around the corner

Wall hanging shaped like a deer head complete with antlers made from Persian rugs
by English artist Debbie Lawson

Bistro-style table setting with Laguiole knife and dish towel napkin

Wine list with wines by the glass features women winemakers 

Tiberio Trebbiano d'Abruzzo was one of the wines featured on the Women Winemakers menu

A delicious crisp clean wine with a lovely aroma and flavours of flavors of green apple, 
anise and almond

Brussels Sprout Caesar Salad with raw and roasted brussels sprouts, caesar dressing, 
bacon lardons and croutons

Bacon lardons served on the side for the Caesar

Goat Cheese, Tomato and Leek Omelette with potato latke and greens

Eggs Benedict with lox, hollandaise, potato latke and green salad