Monday, April 29, 2019

P.J. O'Brien Irish Pub: Colborne St. Comfort Food

Nestled away on the corner of Colborne Street and Leader lane, behind the King Edward Hotel in Toronto's historic St Lawrence Market neighbourhood is P.J. O’Brien, one of the most charming and authentic Irish pubs in town. With it's hardwood floors, copper top bar and white table linens, we've been coming to P.J. O'Brien for over 15 years, when Pat Quinn still held court every day, and could be found tottering down the street during the winter months decked out in a full-length brown mink, with matching Cossack-style fur hat, and accompanied by his loyal companion Guinness, an all-brown cockapoo. Not a Christmas went by without Pat Quinn buying us a drink on the house. Such random acts of kindness leave an impression. He was a lovely fellow with a heart of gold. 

What also keeps us coming back over the years, is the traditional pub fare and Irish comfort food which are always reliable. Melt-in-your-mouth Shepherds Pie with mashed potatoes and old-fashioned Beef & Guiness Stew with potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms are classic comfort food, and the Chicken Curry and Kilkenny Ale Fish & Chips with homemade lemon tartar sauce are hard to beat. The Grilled Calamari Salad with baby greens, roasted bell peppers, olives, grape tomatoes, feta cheese and herb white wine vinaigrette are one of my low carb favourites, as well as their Classic Mussels Provencal with PEI mussels cooked in garlic, onions, celery, bell peppers, white wine and tomato basil sauce. Warm and welcoming, P.J. O’Brien offers a a taste of Ireland in the heart of historic Toronto all year round.

The copper topped wooden bar at P.J. O'Brien

Pint of Guinness

Beef braised in Guinness with potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms

Chicken Curry served with basmati rice and our famous Indian style curry sauce

Guinness Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Paul Pisa, PJ O'Brien

4 lamb shanks, each about 1 lb
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 each: onion, leek, celery stalk, peeled carrot, all cut into 2-inch chunks
2 each: peeled garlic cloves, sprigs thyme, sprigs rosemary, bay leaves
8 whole black peppercorns
1 plum tomato, quartered
2 cups Guinness, at room temperature
2 cups low-sodium chicken or beef stock
Season lamb with salt and pepper

In large fry pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook lamb, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to 4-inch deep casserole or baking dish — meat should fit snuggly as possible. Drain off all but 2 tbsp of fat from fry pan. Add onion, leek, celery, carrot and garlic. Raise heat to high. Cook, stirring often, until nicely browned, 5 minutes. Add vegetables to lamb along with thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns and tomato. Return fry pan to heat. Add beer and stock, scraping up any brown bits. When liquid is hot — don’t let boil — pour over lamb.

Wrap pan tightly with foil. Bake in centre of preheated 325°F oven until lamb is fork tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Carefully transfer lamb shanks to platter. Strain braising liquid into medium saucepan, discarding solids. Wash braising dish. Return shanks to dish. Bring liquid to boil over medium-high heat. Skim off fat that rises to surface. Reduce liquid until salt level is to your taste. Pour sauce over lamb. Cover and return to oven. Bake until hot, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or polenta.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Giulietta: Classic Italian Cuisine on College

Serving ethereal wood-fired pizza and sensational homemade pasta, Chef Rob Rossi's acclaimed Giulietta on College Street is a transformation of his restaurant Bestellen, which previously occupied Giulietta’s long, narrow dining room in Little Italy. With the help of design firm Guido Costantino, they redesigned the dark space and found the perfect marriage between elegance and simplicity, just as Rossi has with his menu. Grey Italian wool walls and terrazzo floors frame the interior, while a candlelit amaro cart invites guests in for an aperitif, such as a Giulietta Spritz, made with orange peel scented gin from Quaglia, or the mightly wine list driven by beverage director and sommelier Toni Weber. The wine list is Old World-heavy, with emphasis placed on affordable bottles. “We wanted to make it easy for people to have a bottle on the table and not feel priced out of the list – really embracing that Italian hospitality.” 

Giulietta’s menu stands in stark contrast to the beefy offerings at Bestellen. “It’s very light on the meat side, on the protein side, and focuses a little more on vegetables and on sharing,” Rossi says. “There’s a lot of small plates. We envisioned it to be like a family-style menu, where everyone’s putting plates everywhere and can just go at it. Obviously the pastas and pizzas are a big part of the menu – you can’t have an Italian restaurant without them.” The menu is inspired and features sweet sausage-wrapped Castelvetrano olives, breaded, deep-fried and dusted with pecorino, are a taste of Ascoli-Piceno's celebrated snack from Italy's Marche region, and the Grilled Moroccan Octopus with cannellini beans and salmorglio is a dish after my own heart. 

In fact, incorporating exceptional, seasonal ingredients into his menu is first and foremost for Rossi. He sources his capon for his Saltimbocca di Cappone from Ferme des Voltigeurs in Québec, brings kampot peppercorns for his cacio e pepe from Cambodia, while his octopus served with heritage cannellini beans is shipped in from Morocco three times a week, fives crates at a time. Even the pizza dough has been taken to an ethereal level, made using a combination of special flour and yeast, and left to proof for at least 5 days, the dough becomes lighter than air. With his father having grown up in Molise, Rob goes back to Italy often and is where he feels most at home. The inspiration for many of the dishes at Giulietta come from this place in his heart that drives the culinary direction of what is most certainly, one of the most authentic Italian experiences in Toronto.

The Giulietta Spritz cocktail made with Bèrto Aperitivo, Prosecco and soda, flanked with a vintage saucer from Alitalia’s first-class section to the garnishes

Vodka Martini with two olives

Giulietta's wood-fired oven

Pizza la Campagnola with wood roasted mushrooms, ricotta, fior di latte, sage and black pepper

Giulietta's sensational is Pizza made using a combination of special flour and yeast, and left to proof for at least 5 days, for dough that becomes lighter than air

Fritti Romani: fried fior di latte, sage, anchovy and lemon

Insalata di Treviso: endive and Treviso lettuce with date-anchovy vinaigrette, 
walnuts and ricotta salata

Insalata Verde: bibb lettuce, parmigiano reggiano, lemon vinaigrette and fresh herbs

Salsiccia d'Agnello: lemon and oregano lamb sausage with citrus braised fennel

Polpo e Fagioli: grilled octopus with cannellini beans and salsa verde

Vino Lauria Frappato "Scoglitti" 2016 from Sicily

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe: traditional long roman pasta, kampot black pepper and pecorino

Girasole Ravioli made with smoked ricotta, spring peas and pecorino romano

Reginette Pappardelle made with slow cooked oxtail ragu, pangrattato, 
parsley and parmigiano reggiano

Braciola do Maiale: heritage pork chop with toasted fennel and apricot mostarda

Carote Arrostite: heirloom carrots with aged vinegar, fresh laurel and lemon

Gianduja Torta with salted caramel, hazelnuts and gianduja cremeux

Bonèt Piemontese: italian custard infused with amaretto, coffee and vanilla

Red Fife Tiramisu: red fife 'spagna’, custard, espresso and dark chocolate

Torta della Nonna: wildflower honey and pine nut tart with mascarpone cream

Roasted Bone Marrow with Ox Tail, Parsley Salad and Toasted Brioche
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Rob Rossi

Braised Ox Tail:
5 tbsp olive oil
3 lb oxtail
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup red wine
8 cup veal stock
1/4 cup Port
1/4 cup Madeira
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper

4 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp dry active yeast
2/3 cup pastry flour, sifted
2 cup all purpose flour, sifted, plus extra flour for dusting
2 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
7 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes and cold, plus 2 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 tbsp 35% cream

Roasted Bone Marrow:
2 5-inch long veal or beef bones, cut in half length-wise, cleaned
salt and pepper

Parsley Salad:
1/2 bunch parsley, leaves picked
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup chives, cut in 1 pieces
Brioche, cut in 1-inch thick slices, toasted

Braised Ox Tail:
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a Le Creuset braiser with a lid over medium-high heat. Season the ox tail on all sides, place in pan and sear on all sides until golden, approximately 8 minutes. Remove from pot and set aside. Heat remaining oil to the same pot. Add onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf. Sauté vegetables until caramelized, approximately 5 minutes. Deglaze with red wine, place ox tails back in pot, add veal stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in oven until oxtail is tender, approximately 3-4 hours.

Remove ox tail from pot and set aside to cool. Shred meat and set aside. Strain liquid into small pot, bring to a simmer. Add Port, Madeira, season with salt and pepper. Reduce liquid by ½ to a glaze consistency. Approximately 45 minutes. Whisk in butter. Add reserved shredded ox tail to reduced sauce. Mix to incorporate and set aside for assembly.

Place water in a small bowl, add yeast and stir. Set aside in a warm place until yeast is activated, approximately 10 minutes. Place flours, salt and sugar in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add 6 eggs and mix on low speed for 1 minute until combined. Slowly add yeast and water mixture to stand mixer. Mix until dough comes together, approximately 5 minutes. Scrape dough from sides of mixing bowl. Mix an additional 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup of butter, mix until incorporated, approximately 1-2 minutes. Continue to add butter gradually for 15 minutes. Remove dough from stand mixer, place in a flour dusted mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until dough doubles in size, approximately 3 hours. 

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough for 1 minute by hand. Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 12 hours. Grease muffin tins with softened butter. Remove dough from fridge and divide into 3oz balls. Place dough in greased muffin tins. Place in a warm area until dough rises ½ an inch above level of muffin tin, approximately 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining egg with cream, for egg wash and brush on tops of dough in muffin tins. Place in oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating tray until golden and baked. Remove Brioche from muffin tin and place on a cooling rack. Bottoms should sound hollow when tapped. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, cut Brioche in 1 inch thick slices horizontally and toast.

Roasted Bone Marrow:
Place bones in a large bowl filled with cold water. Soak for a minimum of 30 minutes, maximum of 24 hours in fridge, changing water occasionally. Preheat oven to 400°F. Dry bones, place on a tray and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until marrow is soft, approximately 15 minutes.

Parsley Salad:
Before serving, toss ingredients in a bowl and set aside for assembly.

Place 1/4 cup of Parsley Salad on one side of each plate. Place 1 piece of Roasted Bone Marrow on each plate on top of Parsley Salad. Spoon Braised Ox Tail over Roasted Bone Marrow. Garnish with lemon zest and chives. Place 3 slices of toasted Brioche on the side of plate and serve.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Kōjin at Momofuku: Columbian Inspired Cuisine

Months after Momofuku’s Toronto restaurants Daisho and Shoto shuttered last June, Kōjin took over the entire third floor of the glass cube that housed all of Momofuku’s Canadian outposts and put Momofuku vet Paula Navarrete in the executive chef role for the first time. The cuisine is an ode to executive chef Navarrete's Colombian childhood in Colombia spent around the grill, combined with her passion for Ontario’s meat and produce. Various cuts of local beef grilled on an open flame are the heart of the menu, supported by dishes like griddled corn flatbread, lacquered pork chops and sizzling prawns. Kōjin is named for the Japanese god of the hearth, and the restaurant’s menu focuses on cooking with fire. Steaks cooked over a wood-fire grill make up an entire section of the menu, and meat features prominently throughout.

Navarrete, who spent some time working as a butcher, is particularly excited about the daily sausage selection she developed with Kojin’s in-house butcher, Derek Easton. During the six years she spent working at Momofuku in Toronto, Navarrete built relationships with farmers, and showcasing Ontario’s produce is also a priority for the chef. “I really admire what people grow here, and I really want to pay respect to the ingredients,” she says. One of the highlights of our recent dinner at Kōjin was chef Navarrette's fabulous griddled corn flatbreads made from local K2 mills cornmeal and hominy, served with a tasty selection of spreads including Avocado and Goat Cheese garnished with dill and pumpkin seeds, and artfully presented Marinated Sardines served with potato aioli and parsley. Although I do miss the Buttermilk Biscuits and Chicken Ssäm from Daishō and Shōtō's sensational tasting menu, Kōjin's beef-centric menu is garnering a lot of attention these days which is especially gratifying for this talented young chef running Momofuku’s newest venture.

Executive chef Paula Navarrete  photo courtesy of Kayla Rocca

Kojin menu

G.D. Vajra Rosabella Rosato 2017

A crisp blend of blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera from Piedmont

Bone Broth and Earl Grey Tea amuse-bouche

Griddled flatbread made from local K2 mills cornmeal and hominy served with 
Marinated Sardines, potato aioli and parsley

Avocado & Goat Cheese with dill and pumpkin seeds

Parsnip purée with scallions

Whole B.C. humpback shrimp are served with with pickled red onion, 
cold-pressed canola oil and chive oil

Ember Roasted Beet Salad with chickpea hozon and parsley

Easton-Blend Burger with gruyere and onion rings 

Grilled Trout with preserved citrus and charred cabbage

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Mushroom Salad
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of Chef Paula Navarrete

2 lb king oyster mushrooms
2 lb oyster mushrooms
2 lb grams maiitake mushrooms
2 heads Frisée lettuce
1 bunch chives
1 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup olive oil
1 lemon
Maldon salt
Black pepper, ground

Roast the mushrooms until golden brown in a pan with canola oil, then season with salt and pepper. To make the vinaigrette, combine sherry vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are cooked, add the vinaigrette while warm, so they can absorb the flavour. Mix the cream cheese with salt, lemon juice, and black pepper. Toss everything with Frisée and serve on top of creamed cheese.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Easter Roast Leg of Lamb with Cannellini Beans

There are few meals as impressive as a roasted boneless leg of lamb. Studded with garlic and rosemary, this simple and delicious roast makes a succulent centrepiece served with sautéed cannellini beans and fresh steamed rapini. Puréed into a coarse paste, the marinade is stuffed into small incisions around the boneless leg of lamb, then rubbed with olive oil and generously seasoned with salt and pepper. Roasted on high at 425°F for 15-20 minutes, then slow roasted at 375°F for 20 minutes per pound, the results are pinky perfection. Lamb, like beef, doesn’t need to be cooked all the way, and is best at a rosy medium-rare, between 135°F to 140°F when finished. Whether served as part of a traditional Easter dinner and garnished with fresh mint, this recipe is easy to prepare, absolutely delicious, and goes beautifully with homemade mint sauce!

Tied boneless leg of lamb roasted on high at 425°F for 15-20 minutes, then slow roasted at 375°F for 20 minutes per pound, the results are pinky perfection

Cannellini Beans with rosemary

Roast Leg of Lamb
Serves 2

2 lb tied Boneless Leg of Lamb
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 
2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 bunch fresh mint

Bring lamb to room temperature and pat dry with paper towel. Brush with oil over the whole leg then season with salt and pepper. Using a sharp knife, make 10-15 incisions across the top and sides of the roast and insert with garlic and rosemary. Arrange the lamb in a baking pan and place in a preheated 425°F for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F and continue roasting for 20 minutes per pound. Allow to rest for 15 minutes under a tent of aluminum foil, to allow the juices to retract. Using a sharp knife, slice the roast and arrange on a decorative platter with a festive garnish of fresh mint.

Cannellini Beans with Fresh Rosemary 
Serves 2
Recipe adapted from The South Beach Parties & Holidays Cookbook

3 tbsp olive oil
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 15 oz can Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Fresh ground black pepper and Maldon salt

Heat the oil, bay leaves and rosemary in a saucepan over medium heat, until the oil begins to bubble, about 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook 2 more minutes. Add the beans and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook the beans through, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves, or save as a garnish, and finish with a grind of black pepper and sprinkle of Maldon salt. Delicious served warm with roast lamb or pork.