Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Curried Couscous: A Fragrant Feast for the Eyes

Quick, easy and wonderfully delicious, this colourful Curried Couscous from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, is a fragrant feast for the eyes. An intoxicating combination of fluffy couscous with plain Greek yogurt, curry powder, turmeric, carrots, scallions and sliced almonds comes together beautifully in this exotic interpretation of the humble North African staple.

Curried Couscous
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups couscous
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup blanched, sliced almonds
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

Place the couscous in a medium bowl. Melt the butter in the boiling water and pour over the couscous. Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Pour over the fluffed couscous, and mix well with a fork. Add the carrots, parsley, almonds, scallions and red onion, mix well, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Baby Gem & Feta Salad with Roast Garlic Vinaigrette

This lovely salad features tender Little Gem lettuce, a smaller, sweeter variety of romaine, adorned with tangy Greek feta, sliced green and black Kalamata olives in a fresh basil and roasted garlic vinaigrette. Inspired by chef Ben Heaton's excellent Baby Gem Salad from Estia, his most recent restaurant in Toronto's stylish Yorkville neighbourhood, this was our favourite dish on the menu. 

Ben Heaton's Gem Salad we had at Estia

Baby Gem & Feta Salad with Roast Garlic Vinaigrette
Serves 8

1 1/2 lb Little Gem lettuce, about 8-9 heads
1 cup Greek feta, crumbled
1/2 cup green and black Kalamata olives, halved
1 cup oven-crisped pita
Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Roasted Garlic Dressing:
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
5 tbsp fresh basil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup plus 1/2 tsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp Maldon salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place unpeeled garlic cloves in small baking dish and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon oil. Roast garlic until soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly then peel and mince. Transfer to small bowl. In a blender, whisk together garlic, fresh basil, vinegar, maple syrup and dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in remaining 1/3 cup oil and season to taste with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Toss the lettuce in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat. To serve, place the dressed lettuce on a large platter and garnish with crumbled feta, oven crisped pita and olives, and season with extra Maldon salt to taste, if desired.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Jean's Smoked Turkey Salad with Apple & Avocado

Each summer we are invited up north to a friends cottage in Muskoka for an Annual Bridge Weekend. Each guest is charged with bringing one meal to add to the weekend's menu, which inevitably erupts into in a culinary extravaganza as everyone makes some of their favourite dishes, like this delicious Smoked Turkey Salad by my friend Jean. A rich medley of lovely flavours, this is the perfect hearty and healthy salad for a warm summer day.

Smoked Turkey Salad
Serves 8
Recipes courtesy of Jean Robinson

1 smoked turkey thigh
1/4 cup capers, drained and halved if desired
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 avocado, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Tandoori curry powder
1 head of green leaf or Boston lettuce, as a bed for the salad
2 tbsp chopped chives, for garnish

Remove the turkey meat from the bone and cut into small pieces, then place in a large bowl. Add the capers, apple, onion, mayonnaise and curry powder, and mix well to combine. Then add the avocado and gently stir into the salad mixture. When ready to serve, arrange the lettuce over a platter and spoon the turkey salad overtop. Garnish with fresh chopped chives, if desired, and serve with some lovely assorted breads.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Suzanne's Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad

Nothing compares to the juiciness of local Ontario summer corn and tomatoes. Light, healthy and delicious, this colourful salad created by my friend Suzanne, is simple to prepare and makes an ideal side dish to celebrate summer's bounty of fresh garden produce. Served with hot juicy flank steak sandwiches on grilled ciabatta with arugula and a tangy Parmesan dressing on a wonderful Muskoka weekend, this lovely salad would also be perfect served with grilled chicken, shrimp or local Milford Bay Trout. 

Suzanne's Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart

2 ears of corn, husk and silk removed with tip cut off
4 pints cherry, grape, or pear tomatoes, halved, or quartered if large
2 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Stand each ear in a large wide bowl, and with a sharp knife, carefully slice downward to release the kernels, discarding the cobs. Add the tomatoes, avocado, scallions, lime juice, and oil to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss gently to combine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Tulo’s Taqueria: Cocina Mexicana in Muskoka

Located in the heart of Muskoka, this picturesque cottage country Mexican taqueria serving dockside tacos, ceviche and Mexican beach food in an historic boathouse setting overlooking the crystal blue waters of Port Carling's waterfront, Tulo's Taqueria has become the hip new taco hub in Grand Electric's previous haunt on James Bartleman Way. Open noon to 10pm seven days a week, Tulo's doesn't take reservations which explains the long lineups all day, every day. Arriving just before noon on a hot sunny weekend, there was just a family with hungry kids jostling in front of us before we were quickly seated on the outdoor patio in the shade of a big blue Ace Hill Beer umbrella. First up — a cold, thirst quenching, full-flavoured Modelo Pilsner brewed in Mexico City, followed by a selection of Tulo's signature tacos and their famous Tuna Ceviche Tostada Tower with cabbage slaw, crushed tortillas and creamy avocado mayonnaise. With a crew of young upbeat friendly staff and killer menu of potent cocktails, interesting beers, and special Kid's Menu, it's no wonder Tulo's has become a family favourite among Muskoka's refined cottage crowd.

Overlooking the lake in Port Carling, Tulo's offers dockside tacos and a menu of Mexican-inspired dishes

Tulo's Mexican-inspired menu features tacos, ceviche and Mexican beach food

Thirst-quenching Mexican Modelo Beer

Tuna Ceviche Tostada Tower with shaved cabbage and herb salad, 
shallots and avocado mayonnaise

Battered Haddock Fish Taco with cabbage slaw, lime mayonnaise and radish

Spicy Chicken Taco with arbol pepper salsa, cucumber yogurt, pickled red onion and queso cheese

Extra limes, onion and cilantro for garnishing the tacos

Battered Gulf Shrimp Taco with cabbage, scallions and special sauce

Show Roasted Shredded Pork Carnita Taco made with heritage pork, pineapple mango salsa 
and chipotle mayonnaise

Tulo's Key Lime "Pie"

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Summer Pudding: The Ultimate Berrylicious Dessert

Summer Pudding is one of the quintessential English desserts, and one of my personal favourites! A triumphal end to many summer lunches and dinners I've hosted over the years, Summer Berry Pudding has also become an eagerly anticipated summer treat for many of my friends — as easy to make as it is outstandingly delicious. Packed full of fresh summer strawberries, raspberries and blueberries that have been simmered with brown sugar and framboise, then poured into a bread lined bowl and chilled overnight, the pectin in the berries react with the sugar in the bread, and as the pudding chills, it firms up into the most fabulous crimson coloured berry-licious pudding. Served with a dollop of creme fraiche, Summer Pudding is heaven on earth.

Summer Pudding
Serves 12

1 lb strawberries
1 lb raspberries
1 lb blueberries
1 lb blackberries
1 package frozen mixed berries
1 cup light brown sugar
1 loaf white bread
1/2 cup framboise
2 cups crème fraîche and fresh mint, for garnish

Remove the crusts from the bread. Wash and trim all the fresh berries, and add them to a large saucepan with the frozen berries, framboise, brown sugar and 1/2 cup of water, and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the berries have released their juices, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then remove 1 cup of the juice and set aside.

Lightly grease a medium sized bowl with some vegetable oil, then line the bowl with the slices of bread, covering the bottom and the sides. Using a large spoon, ladle the berry mixture into the bread lined bowl, then top with the remaining slices of bread. Lay a flat plate on top with a heavy weight to squash the fruit down, and chill 12-24 hours.

When ready to serve, place a large serving plate on top of the bowl and gently invert. Shake gently to release the pudding onto the plate and spoon the reserved juice over the top, garnishing with some sprigs of fresh mint. Serve cut into wedges, with a bowl of thick crème fraîche on the table. Heaven!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Garlic Herb Tomato Goat Cheese, Feta & Ricotta Dip

Once a month our small book club meets to discuss a novel one of has chosen earlier in the year, but in actuality, we spend much of the time catching up with what has been going on in each of our lives since the last time we met. Another feature of our gatherings are the sensational appetizers or desserts that we each prepare to whet the appetites — both literary and gustatory. This luscious Goat Cheese, Feta and Ricotta Dip with garlic, herbs and cherry tomatoes was made by our friend Joy, and was absolutely delicious. Baked for about half an hour at 350°F, the combination of the three cheeses were wonderfully balanced with a hint of minced garlic and fresh basil for extra flavour, complimented with warm bursts of sweetness from the tiny plum-shaped cherry tomatoes. 

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."

"Just as food is necessary to the life of the body, 
so good books are necessary to the life of the soul" 

"Books are the chocolate chips in the cookies of life"

Book Club Garlic Herb Tomato Goat Cheese, Feta & Ricotta Dip
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Joy Thomas

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup ricotta
8 oz log goat cheese
3/4 cup crumbled feta
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil
1/4 lb yellow cherry tomatoes
1/4 lb red cherry tomatoes
Toasted baguette or crackers for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a round baking dish with butter or nonstick spray. In a large bowl, mix together the olive oil, ricotta, goat cheese, feta, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and basil. Use a spoon to combine as much as possible then stir in half of the tomatoes. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and top with the remaining tomatoes, cut side down. Bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly and slightly browned. Wait about 10 minutes before serving with toasted baguette or crackers.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Tuscan-Style Veal Chops with Rosemary & Sage

Grilling is the world's oldest and one of the healthiest cooking methods. It's also the perfect way to cook for today's healthy lifestyle, being naturally high in flavour, low in fat and short on prep-time. This wonderful recipe comes from Steven Raichlen, grill-master, cookbook author and contributor to Food & Wine Magazine. The flavour in these savory grilled veal chops is outstanding and the preparation couldn’t be easier, and as Raichlen says, "when you add butter or olive oil to meat hot off the grill the fat mixes with the meat juices and creates an instant sauce." Minced garlic and fresh herbs lend a lovely Springtime freshness and bright Italian flavour, and paired with a simple salad with arugula or mixed greens, sliced radish and fresh mint with a tangy lemon dressing, the combination is as bright and beautiful as a summer day. 

Tuscan-Style Veal Chops
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy Steven Raichlen of Food & Wine

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
2 garlic clove, minced 
1 tbsp rosemary leaves 
1/4 cup sage leaves 
2 12-ounce veal rib chops, cut at least 1-inch thick 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. On a platter, mix the olive oil with the garlic, rosemary and sage. Season the veal chops with salt and black pepper and drizzle generously with olive oil. Grill the chops over moderately high heat, turning once, about 6 minutes per side for medium. Transfer the chops to the platter and turn to coat with the olive oil and herbs. Generously drizzle the veal with olive oil and let stand for 3 minutes, turning the chops a few times. Spoon the juices and oil over the chops and serve.

Arugula, Radish & Mint Salad
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy Steven Raichlen of Food & Wine

2 handfuls of baby arugula
4 radishes, sliced very thin
1 lemon or meyer lemon, segmented
10 mint leaves, rough chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, pressed
2 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, pressed garlic, salt, and pepper.  In a slow steady stream, whisk in the olive oil with a fork.  Gently toss in the arugula, radishes, lemon segments and mint.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Pizza Libretto on Ossington: True Neapolitan Pizza

We're fortunate to have a fabulous selection of authentic Neapolitan pizzerias in Toronto, and one that's received it's fair share of media buzz is Pizzeria Libretto, the brainchild of chef Rocco Agostino and his partner Max Rimaldi, who in 2009 sparked a Neapolitan pizza craze serving blistered, wood-fired thin-crust pies at their first location on Ossington Avenue. The pizzeria's name comes from the traditional Neapolitan way of thinking about pizza: it should be thin enough to be folded in half into a little book, or a 'libretto', and it appears Pizza Libretto wrote the book on Neapolitan pizzas — as they're still considered by many to be the very best in the city. Agostino is so serious about Neapolitan-style pizza that there’s an 'Ideology' section on the Pizzeria Libretto website. 

Pizza Libretto is loyal to what real pizza is — invented in Naples using local natural ingredients, cooked in a wood fired oven at extremely high heat to achieve a charred, blistered crust. They use San Marzano tomatoes and Fiore di Latte Mozzarella, brought in fresh daily; the dough is made with naturally leavened Italian Caputo doppio zero flour and is baked in less than 90 seconds at 900°F in their wood burning oven, hand built by a 3rd generation pizza oven maker in Naples. Simple, Honest, and Natural. They serve many different styles of pizza, but it’s the passion that's behind the pizza, and the ingredients that are laid on top, that makes all the difference at Pizza Libretto, from Duck Confit with Bosc Pear and Mozzarella; Spicy Nduja Sausage with Tomato, Garlic, Oregano, Basil, Mozzarella and Stracciatella; Cremini Mushroom with Buffalo Mozzarella , Gorgonzola, Roasted Garlic, Rosemary, Thyme and Pecorino; to their signature Libretto Margherita with Buffalo Mozzarella, Crushed Tomato and Grana Padano. With line ups out the door most nights, the Ossington Libretto is still a booming success with devoted pizza-philes across the city. Grazie mille Rocco!

Pizza Libretto's menu features outstanding wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas, range of antipasti, dolce and a selection of creative cocktails and Italian wines

The bright new interior styling of Pizza Libretto on Ossington with black and white tile, exposed brick walls and hip orange leather bar seating

Aperol Spritz with sparking wine on ice 

Executive Chef Rocco Agostino 

Pizza Diavola with spicy salami, chili, onion, kalamata olives, basil and mozzarella

A Tuscan Allberese red wine with a combination of Sangiovese and Trebbiano grapes

Classic Pizza margherita with mozzarella and fresh basil

Prosciutto di Parma and Arugula Pizza with basil, mozzarella and gated grana padano

Libretto Meatballs
Serves 4-6
Recipe by Rocco Agostino, chef/partner at Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto
1 1/2 kg ground beef, ground pork and ground pork belly
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup roasted and puréed red peppers
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp black pepper

Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 litre canned San Marsano tomato, puréed
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup Bomba, an Italian spicy condiment found at most grocery stores
1/2 tbsp salt
6 slices crostini from a baguette, about 1/2-inch thick each
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano

Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Portion the meatballs with ice-cream scoop, then roll the meat into tight circular balls and place on large sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside.

For the tomato sauce, add 1/4 cup of olive oil to a pot large enough to hold the meatballs. Sauté the onions over medium heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the tomato purée and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the chopped basil, Bomba, salt and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Add the meatballs and drippings left in the baking tray and simmer for another 15 minutes. While the meatballs simmer, lightly brush the crostini with olive oil and bake at 375°F until the bread is golden. Remove from oven and set aside

To serve, place three meatballs in a bowl and pour sauce over each one. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of grated Parmigiano over the meatballs, and add a crostino to each plate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Yasu on Harbord: The Best Omakase in Toronto

Tucked in a narrow white room on Harbord Street, Osaka-raised chef-owner Yasuhisa Ouchi serenades his patrons with the best sushi in Toronto. The city's first sushi-only omakase restaurant, Yasuhisa's edict is simple — "In a global world where borders are becoming seamless, Toronto can now have access to the freshest seafood like what we have in Japan." The chef can be found behind the bar night after night, carefully preparing each nigiri of the omakase meal, assisted by one or two sous chefs, with each course focusing on the freshest seafood flown in fresh from fish markets all over the globe. He uses classical methods to draw out the umami of seafood, with fish that is freshly sliced and placed atop warm, loose rice then brushed with a touch of nikiri soy for a perfectly balanced bite. In short, Yasu is all about capturing the essence of sushi. Seasonal ingredients are prepared at the sushi bar and served immediately for maximum flavour and freshness, for a true omakase sushi experience — served only just-warm, vinegar-seasoned rice draped with superlative fish, made to order right in front of you and served one single bite at a time. 

Our favourite omakase in the city, the menu is Ouchi's choice of 20 impeccably fresh pieces of edomae sushi for $135 per person, which can include Striped Jack from Kyoto, Ocean Trout from Scotland, Uni from Hokkaido, Horse mackerel from Portugal and Unagi from Nagasaki and sublime hay smoked Bonito from Japan. The fish selection changes constantly, and the sake pairings, served in glasses cradled in a traditional wooden masu box, are a delightful trip through the various styles of Japanese rice wine and well worth the price. For sushi enthusiasts, Yasu is an experience unlike like any other. Place yourself in chef Yasu's hands, and you'll leave in a blissful state of sushi 'oishii' every time.

Sous chef garnishing the oysters with tobiko and chopped scallions

The first Sake pairing of the evening, a Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo

Creamy, semi-dry, bright, lively and absolutely yummy

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido, Japan

Chef Yasu's Premium Sashimi Plate with wild spot prawns from BC, bluefin tuna from Mexico, wild Japanese amberjack from Tokyo, scallop and uni from Hokkaido and Royal Miyagi oyster from BC

Royal Miyagi Oyster from the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia

Chef Yasuhisa Ouchi slicing the Japanese Striped Jack

Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo Sake, our second pairing of the evening, and comes from the oldest 
brewery in the famed Sake producing region of Niigata Japan

Striped Jack from Japan

Tiny Sakura Shrimp in season from Shizuoka, Japan are also called 'Cherry Blossom' shrimp 

Chef Yasu garnishing the fluke sushi with seared fluke fin

Fluke with seared fluke fin

Horse Mackerel from Portugal

Dewazakura Dewano Sato Premium Junmai Sake from Yamagata, Japan

Rich and full bodied, this youthful dry-style Junmai Sake has a notes of bright fresh green apple and a delicious blend of subtle spice flavours

Ocean Trout from Scotland

Hay Smoked Bonito from Japan

Yasu sous chef preparing the Toro and Ikura bowls

Negitoro Bluefin Tuna from Mexico and Ikura Salmon Roe from Alaska

Homemade Fish Broth made from Japanese Striped Jack

Otokoyama Kimono Sake from Hokkaido

New Zealand Grouper with lemon juice and sea salt

Norwegian Mackerel with paper thin daikon wrap

Mexican Bluefin Tuna with homemade soy sauce

Lightly Seared Tuna Belly

Unagi Freshwater Eel from Nagasaki, Japan

Tsukasabortan Yamayuzu Shibori Sake, a yuzu infused pure sake from Kochi

A delicious and refreshing sake with an expansive fruity aroma of mountain yuzu

Tamagoyaki, a type of Japanese omelette made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg

Homemade black sesame iced cream