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Over the last few years, I have worked (prepping and cooking) many times with David Rocco, author, chef, and producer. About a year ago, I decided to follow him on Instagram and I have not regretted it. He doesn’t post too often and he posts about his family as well as the standard self-promotion that celebrities post about. I love the posts about his family. He has three kids and an absolutely gorgeous wife. The first time I heard of Oretta, an authentic Italian restaurant in the Entertainment district on King West in Toronto, was on David’s Instagram (apparently, he goes quite often)! The food looked beautiful and delicious so I immediately put it on my restaurant bucket list. If you’re looking for American-Italian-family-style gluttony, this is not your place, but if you’re looking for authentic Italian cooking in a tastefully decorated Italian-style space, this place might be for you! This is the type of restaurant that all the beautiful people frequent, particularly during TIFF.

The first time I stepped into Oretta was last summer, for dinner, it was like stepping into a high-end restaurant in Florence, Italy, it literally took me back to 1989, when we last visited that special place. High, vaulted ceilings, geometric wall art, interesting tiles and spectacular food. We have eaten several times since, and I have wanted to post a review but have always forgotten to take photos (story of my life). The food is authentic Italian and it’s delicious! They even have Neapolitan pizza (in a wood-fired oven, no less).

Everything is wonderful at Oretta, but each and every time we have been there with reservations, we have ALWAYS been seated beside a table of infants. Literally, babies. And each time I have to ask to be moved, which they do quite happily (but why on earth do I need to ask?). I must have a sign on my forehead that says, “seat me beside the noisiest, fussiest table, please’! It won’t stop me from going but I know that I will need to ask to be moved. Every. Single. Time.

Their menu has the usual suspects (arancini, burrata, polipo, polpette, foccacia, pizza, pasta to name a few) but it’s their brunch menu that is truly special. Sadly, it was one of those times that I forgot to photograph it but I can certainly speak to it. I had ordered the Uova Burrata E Tartufo (truffled eggs with burrata). It was to-die-for! The truffle added the perfect earthiness and the burrata, portioned in every bite, gave the dish the richness that made the brunch extra special. It was so good that I actually dream about it, it was the type of dish you wish would not end. My only regret was that I gave JT a bite to taste and he wasn’t thrilled but he doesn’t like truffle so it was wasted on him!!

The last time we were there was at the end of January. I was obsessing about the egg dish and so looking forward to having it again, but sadly Winterlicious had just begun and they didn’t have their brunch menu. No worries, though, all the food is great.

I ordered the Polipo ($20.00), charred octopus, chickpea puree, red pepper jam, olives, pancetta, crostini. The octopus was perfectly cooked and not overly ‘charred’. The creamy chickpea puree and subtly sweet red pepper jam was the perfect canvas to showcase the polipo. The briny umami of the olives balanced everything perfectly.

JT ordered Manzo ($22.00) 6oz seared flat iron, caponata, tomato emulsion which was also quite tasty. Although the steak was perfectly cooked, it was a tiny bit chewy which made me think it might not have been brought up to room temperature before cooking. The dish was meaty and the soft sweet vegetables made for a lovely contrast. Both meals were worth ordering again, so we will definitely be back. But those eggs…

We were recently in Cancun, Mexico for a destination wedding (don’t get me started) for my Goddaughter/niece. They literally picked the most expensive place in Cancun (don’t get me started). We haven’t been to an all-inclusive for 25 years and this 2-day experience reminded me why, it’s just not our thing!  What was most disappointing is that not one room had an ocean view, not one. I cannot imagine why you would go to the Carribean and not want to see the Ocean from your room. Anyway, now I can put my focus on our next trip, Spain.

Here are a few pics. Click on any one for a gallery view.

I spied this spectacular dessert on my dear friend Liz, That Skinny Chick Can Bake social media account at the end of January and was immediately impressed. Flourless and full of chocolatey goodness, this cake ticked off so many boxes, I absolutely had to make it. Get out your pocketbooks because this cake has an enormous amount of chocolate (500 g plus the ganache!). Pull out all the stops and use the best chocolate you can afford.

This is an extremely rich cake. In fact, it is like eating a giant truffle. I would portion the slices a wee bit thinner but this made for a prettier picture.

My first attempt, I reduced the recipe to make two very small tarts. I went full-out low-carb, which meant replacing the sugar with erythritol and using unsweetened chocolate. It was actually fine for my taste but JT suggested a bit more sweetness would satisfy our dinner guests. My attempt at making a simple syrup from erythritol and water proved successful for a pomegranate syrup I had made (but had forgotten to photograph) so I applied the same formula to this recipe, increasing the water to accommodate the large amount of erythritol. I boiled down the syrup to 1 cup and I wouldn’t try boiling it down any more as it had begun to crystallize on the top.

The semi-sweet chocolate sacrificed much of the low carb aspect so I won’t even do the analysis. I may try increasing the erythritol and going back to unsweetened chocolate to see if that might bring the carbs back to a reasonable level, but I’m going to wait with that experiment until we recover from this version of this decadent dessert. If you have a special dinner, this dessert definitely fits the bill and the splurge. Thanks, Liz, I can always count on you for a decadent dessert.

La Bete Noir (Flourless Chocolate Cake)

For the original recipe, please click here.

Serves about 20 people

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 375 mL water
  • 150 g Erythritol
  • 128 g butter, diced
  • 388  g semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 112 g unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 6 eggs

Ingredients for the ganache:

  • 200 mL heavy cream
  • 226 g semisweet chocolate, chopped

Topping, as shown:

  • 25-30 g Pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 125 mL whipping cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare a 25 cm springform pan by covering the bottom and all the way up the sides with two layers of foil paper. Cut a circle from parchment and place it in the inside bottom of the pan. Place the pan into a large, higher-sided pan and set aside.
  2. Combine the water and erythritol in a small saucepan and heat until boiling, whisking until the erythritol has completely dissolved into the water. Continue to boil and reduce the volume to 250 mL. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Combine the butter with all of the chocolate and heat gently in the microwave until it is melted and smooth. Stir in the erythritol simple syrup. Cool slightly.
  4. Place all of the eggs into another bowl and beat until fully combined. Pour the eggs all at once into the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth.
  5. Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared springform pan. Fill the larger pan with boiling water to about 3/4 the way up. Bake on the centre rack for about 50 minutes or until centre has set.
  6. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. When sufficiently cooled, run a sharp knife along the inside edge to release the cake from the pan. Carefully remove it from the pan and allow to cool completely.
  7. Place an inverted glass on top of a clean piece of parchment and place a wire rack on top of the glass, set aside.
  8. Remove the bottom of the springform pan as well as the parchment from the cake and place it on the wire rack that is resting directly on the inverted glass.
  9. Make the ganache by heating the cream to almost boiling and pour over the chocolate. Mix until the chocolate is completely melted and smoothly combined with the cream.
  10. Pour the ganache over the cake and allow to flow over the top and sides evenly. Allow this to set at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
  11. Decorate the top with the chopped pistachios and serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Be prepared for guest requesting a take-away box for later (at least our’s did). It’s that good!!!

Notes:

  • This cake is extremely rich, so I increased the serving size from 16 to 20.
  • The original recipe did not mix semi-sweet with unsweetened chocolate, it was all semi-sweet.

My facebook feed knows l like to cook/bake. Almost every video that comes up is a recipe video. A few weeks ago, I had woken up in the middle of the night and was having trouble falling back to sleep so I pulled out my phone to see what was happening in cyberspace. A really cool low carb cauliflower recipe video showed up. I thought I had saved it but I didn’t and after scouring the internet for the recipe, I gave up and created my own. We had quite a bit of cheese left over from our New Year’s Day lunch so this recipe was perfect timing.

This was a great success. The bites are soft, flavourful and have great texture from the crispy melted cheese. And the bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon?

Ladies will need two bites, JT needed one!

Low Carb Cheesy Cheddar, Bacon Cauliflower Bites

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 35 bites.

Ingredients:

  • 250 g cauliflower, riced
  • 120 g of sharp cheddar, grated and divided
  • 20 g shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 40 g coconut flour
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
  • 3 g, each salt and pepper
  • 3 large eggs, beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare a mini-muffin cup pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Cook the cauliflower in the microwave for 4-6 minutes and remove as much water as possible by squeezing it in a cheesecloth. Set aside to cool.
  3. Combine the cooled cauliflower, 80 g cheddar, shallots, garlic, coconut flour, bacon and eggs and mix well. Spoon 15 mL (1 tbsp) each into the prepared pans. Top with remaining cheddar.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set and cheddar on top has melted. Gently loosen sides and remove from the pan. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature.

Notes:

  • This would be a great recipe to use with flavoured cheddar. The recipe above was made with Peppercorn Cheddar and topped with orange old sharp cheddar.
  • This freezes very well. To reheat, just pop some on a baking sheet and heat at 300° F until defrosted and warm on the inside, about xx minutes.

Nutritional Breakdown:

Per 1 piece

  • Calories: 34
  • Net Carbs: 1 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Fat: 3 g

We’ve been making a huge effort to cut out carbs from our diet. The one thing I have been really missing is bread. Not that we ate that much bread, but a sandwich every now and again is a nice treat so I have been trying to make carb-free bread and failing miserably until I came across a delicious keto bun at a local craft sale. It had a similar texture and crumb as flour bread, but made with almond flour and coconut flour. At the time, the lady would not share her recipe, so I made every recipe on the net trying to find her secret, sadly failing. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I get an email from her out of the blue sharing her recipe! How serendipitous! It turned out that it was one of the first recipes I tried but obviously did not get it right so I had abandoned it. She had made a few adjustments to the original recipe and shared them with me, and I made further adjustments to make it my own. It’s easier to make than normal yeasted bread (really is more like quick-bread as you make it) and the result is quite surprising. It’s a lot more expensive to make this bread than it is to make regular flour bread (the recipe below is about $12 for 8 buns).

Those nooks and crannies are like real bread!

Most flour-free buns are usually eggy and super dense because of the nut flours used and the lack of leavening, but these buns are light and have a great spongy texture and fantastic crumb, they never disappoint, time after time! The original recipe had great texture but lacked the flavour that yeast imparts in real bread so I experimented and came up with this augmentation. If you don’t feel like messing with the yeast, just omit it along with the granules of sugar but keep the water the same. You will not be disappointed.

How many would you like?

The Worlds BEST Low Carb Buns

Makes 6 medium-sized buns. For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 100 g Almond flour (see notes)
  • 30 g Coconut Flour
  • 33 g Psyllium Husk Powder, finely ground (see notes)
  • 10 g Baking Powder
  • 6 g Sea salt
  • 10 g Cider vinegar
  • 100 g Egg whites
  • 8 g Instant Yeast
  • a few granules of sugar
  • 280 g Boiling Water, divided
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sesame Seeds

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (170° C). Prep a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Prepare a hand mixer ready to use and a timer.
  2. Combine the yeast with the sugar in 57 g of warm water (about 43° C or 100° F) and allow to froth.
  3. To a large bowl, add almond flour, coconut flour, psyllium husk powder, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine.
  4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the cider vinegar, egg whites and proofed yeast and mix on low speed, for a short time, to combine evenly.
  5. Boil the remaining water (223 g). Pour the water all at once into the almond flour mixture and blend for 30 seconds to make a smooth dough (do not over blend).
  6. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions (mine worked out to be about 94 g) and roll into a smooth ball with generously wet hands. Slightly flatten each roll so it’s more like the shape of an English muffin (don’t worry, they rise enormously).
  7. Brush each bun with the egg yolk and top with sesame seeds and bake for about 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is 95° C (200° F).
  8. Cool completely on a wire rack, before slicing. Serve toasted or plain with your favourite topping.

Notes:

  • I use Anthony’s Premium Blanched Almond Flour which may be purchased on Amazon. I have heard that the Costco Kirkland brand also works, but I haven’t tried it. I will eventually try the finely ground almond flour Bulk Barn sells because Anthony’s is pretty expensive.
  • I use psyllium husk powder from Bulk Barn, but I grind it to a super fine consistency with my coffee/spice grinder.
  • 100 g of egg whites is more or less 3 large egg whites.
  • Many of these recipes call for room temperature ingredients, I have done both room temperature and right out of the refrigerator and they resulted in more or less the same buns.
  • When working with the dough, generously wet hands are imperative for a nice smooth crust.
  • Mixing the boiling water into the batter with a hand mixer for 30 seconds ensures that it’s entirely blended but not overworked.
  • For Christmas, I received a bottle of Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning and it is awesome on these buns!

Nutritional Breakdown:

Per 1 piece

  • Calories: 178
  • Net Carbs: 5 g
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Fat: 12 g

We had a little break from the Christmas rush on boxing day and we made our pilgrimage to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We love to stay at Harbour House because the rooms are nice, the people are wonderful and they have a few perks that we like to take advantage of: a lovely breakfast spread in the morning room, wine and cheese in the lobby between 4-5 every night, free shuttle service to any restaurant within NOTL! During our last night, we dined at The Cannery and I noticed they had a twice-baked soufflé on the menu so I immediately amended our NYE menu to include a twice-baked soufflé.

We had some friends over for New Year’s Eve and I decided to make a tapas evening. We had six courses but were too full so we only had five of them. I spread the evening out as much as possible so we ate from 7:30-10:30. The courses were:

  • Zucchini Fritters with Sriracha Aioli
  • Twice Baked Mushroom Soufflé
  • Coconut Shrimp with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce
  • Crab Gyoza with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce
  • Mussels in a White Wine Broth and Baguette
  • Cheese Course (this is the one we saved for the following day).

It was a nice way to spend the evening, just noshing and chatting away. We hadn’t seen these friends since mid-November so we had a lot to catch up on. But there wasn’t a lot of talking during this course. Just eating!

Twice Baked Mushroom Soufflé

Original recipe by Lorraine Elliot of Not Quite Nigella.

Makes about 500 mL (~15 oz)

Ingredients:

  • 15 g butter, plus additional for buttering ramekins
  • 15 g plain all purpose flour
  • 80 g shiitake mushrooms, sliced medium thickly
  • 40 g chestnuts, roasted and roughly chopped
  • 10 mL roasted garlic purée
  • 125 mL milk, heated
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 40 g goats cheese, crumbled

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).
  2. Butter the ramekins well, all the way up the sides. Boil some water.
  3. Dry roast the mushroom slices in a non-stick pan so that they colour a little on both sides and much of their moisture has evaporated. Set aside.
  4. Melt the remaining butter in the pan and add the flour all at once. Cook the flour for a minute without burning it. Add the milk and whisk until smooth, it will be very thick.
  5. Chop the slightly cooled mushrooms and add them with the roasted, chopped chestnuts and roasted garlic purée to the roux and whisk well.
  6. Add the egg yolk and stir well to combine. Set aside to cool.
  7. Meanwhile, beat the egg white until stiff but not dry. Take about 1/4 of the beaten egg whites and stir it into the roux mixture to loosen. Fold in the remaining egg whites until well incorporated but not deflated.
  8. Divide the mixture into the prepared ramekins and bake in a bain-marie (this is why you were boiling the water) for 35-40 minutes or until tops are lightly golden (remember, they will be baked again).
  9. Allow to cool in the ramekins for about 5 minutes (they will deflate a bit), then gently loosen sides with a sharp knife and turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool until room temperature.
  10. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator until needed. If you are not going to use it for a few days, wrap each soufflé individually in plastic wrap and then bag in a large ziplock freezer bag. Freeze until required.
  11. To defrost, remove from the freezer the night before it is required and defrost in the refrigerator. The microwave is not suitable for this step.
  12. Lay the soufflés into individual ovenproof dishes and prepare the béchamel finishing sauce.

Ingredients for Béchamel Finishing Sauce:

  • 5 g unsalted butter
  • 15 g all-purpose flour
  • 250 mL milk
  • Pinch of thyme leaves
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • season to taste.

Directions for Béchamel Finishing Sauce:

  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and cook the roux without burning for about 1 minute.
  2. Slowly add the milk while whisking to create a smooth sauce, cook until thickened.
  3. Flavour with the thyme leaves and nutmeg.
  4. Pour over the defrosted soufflés in an oven-proof bakeware and bake about 25 minutes in a preheated 350° F (180° C), to heat it through.

Tex-Mex Seasoning

As you may well know, I am not a fan of buying ready-made seasonings. I always try to make my own and that way I can customize it to my own taste. This one is a perfect example. It’s wonderful on fish or chicken and it’s salted to my taste instead of the ridiculous amounts of salt in store-bought versions. The sugar is optional, I have used erythritol as well, works similarly and the taste is still good due to the flavours of the other ingredients.

This seasoning is particularly good on grilled meats, we’ve been grilling on the Big Green Egg all winter and loving it. The intense smoke infuses into everything we grill and it is awesome.

Tex-Mex Seasoning

Ingredients:

  • 10 g dehydrated onion flakes
  • 5 g granulated garlic
  • pinch of smoked sweet paprika
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 g cumin
  • 10 g brown sugar
  • salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in your spice grinder and grind until onion and garlic are pulverized and the blend is a fine powder.
  2. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot.

I’m always trying to find ways to eat healthier and desserts are always a good place to start, particularly after the holidays when we may have overindulged (wink, wink). This is an old recipe from my friend Charles who isn’t blogging as much these days, it’s a lovely Swedish almond cake that is packed with almond flavour and texture. It’s almost like eating a marzipan cake!

There is that darn winter light.

 

Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free Almond Cake

Ingredients:

  • 225 g Erythritol, ground finely
  • 150g Almond Flour (ground finer than meal)
  • 50 g Coconut Flour
  • 60 g Butter
  • 2 Eggs
  • 125 mL water
  • 1 tsp almond flavouring
  • zest of one lemon
  • 30g Flaked Almonds

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Prepare your spring-form tart pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Add the Erythrital, almond flour and coconut flour to the large bowl of your food processor and process to combine well.
  3. Melt the butter and allow to cool to room temperature.
  4. Combine the eggs, cooled butter, water, almond flavouring and lemon zest and mix well.
  5. While processing the flours, slowly drizzle in the wet ingredients until well combined (it will be more like marzipan than batter). Press into the prepared cooking pan and sprinkle the flaked almonds evenly all over the top of the mixture.
  6. Place carefully into the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes. Take it out of the oven and set aside to cool before removing from the pan to slice up.

Notes:

  • Erythritol (or monkfruit) is not new, it’s been around since the 1800’s. Sadly it has an unfortunate name because it sounds like a horrible chemical. In fact, it is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in fermented fruit and is 60-70% as sweet as sugar, but will not cause tooth decay or spike blood sugar levels and is only partly absorbed by the body but mostly discarded in the obvious ways. A Scottish chemist named John Stenhouse discovered it in 1848. The down-side is that it’s ridiculously expensive! It’s nearly $10 per kilo! (About $5 a pound!) Here in Toronto (traditionally more expensive than the burbs and smaller cities) sugar is $1.25 per kilo, $0.63 per pound so I can see why this might not catch on.
  • Erythritol is sold in crystal format, I prefer to grind it super finely in my coffee/spice grinder to avoid a crunchy texture. The strange thing about it is that although it does melt, it eventually goes back to the crystal structure. Your baked goods will be a little grainier than with normal sugar.
  • Some people don’t find erythritol sweet enough, so often it is paired with stevia but stevia has been known to have an aftertaste. 
  • You can use Erythritol 1:1 for sugar.
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