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Archive for November, 2012

Bloor West Village has been going through a bit of a make-over in the last few years. This past summer, we had Payless Shoes close (I always wondered what it was doing in our hood) and a Laura Secord shop close (now that was sad, great ice cream) and in their place a new restaurant opened its doors called The Works. The Works is a burger restaurant, but not like any restaurant you’ve seen, they specialize in burgers, high-end burgers. JT stopped by on his day off to have lunch in November and had a good experience so last Sunday we thought we’d another go.

The restaurant is not huge, but it was hopping at the strange hour of 3pm on a Sunday. I guess we were not the only one’s lunching at that hour! It’s decorated in warehouse grunge and it’s quite cool.; corrugated metal on walls, some graffiti, copper plumbing pipe made into cool linear art. The menu is burgers, burgers and more burgers. They offer • Ground Beef • Whole Chicken Breast • Lean Ground Turkey • Gourmet Veggie • Portobello Mushroom Cap • and Lean Domestic Elk (3.39 upgrade). The menu is laid out in steps, so that Step One is selecting your burger, then you choose the venue you would like the burger presented in, with a variety of toppings or if you wish, a salad topped with a burger. I didn’t see a custom burger option but with the variety of choices offered there are plenty so likely there would be no problem in finding something that will satisfy you. The menu is very Toronto centric which is also quite cool and they change the names depending on the city they service (for example, there is the Bloor West Village – grilled eggplant, ripe tomato, red onion & curry mayo 12.93 or the Distillery District – danish blue cheese, walnut chunks & a smattering of dijon-haze sauce 12.91). The burgers are not cheap, but then they are pretty gourmet, and the toppings are not skimpy so you are getting some good value for your dollar.

As I mentioned we arrived at around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed. Fortunately, we only had to wait a couple of minutes for them to clean off the table. We were seated with menus and left to peruse for over 10 minutes before a server came by. Even the host came by and asked if we had been seen by someone. Now in all fairness, this was only their second week open, so they may have some hickups to smooth over even though there seemed to be plenty of servers on the floor for the number of people (it’s not a huge place). We placed our orders for drinks and our meals and the drinks came out in a reasonable time, albeit the water took a while. The server warned us that the food will take at least 20 minutes because they make everything fresh. It would have been nice if they had provided some kind of snack (like in Mexican restaurants they give you home made tortilla chips with salsa, or Thai places give you shrimp chips with peanut sauce) since the wait for the food was so long. But they didn’t. We’ll have to keep that in mind if there is a next time as we were pretty hungry.

JT had enjoyed the Elk burger on his previous visit so we both decided to give it another try. It’s not easy to share dishes here because they serve them on galvanized metal trays without cutlery for the most part (my salad came with a fork, I had to ask for a knife). The non-alcholic drinks are served in glass measuring cups (I found it a bit awkward to drink out of the larger glass, so you had to drink with the straw provided). JT ordered the Elk Burger with the Distillery District topping (danish blue cheese, walnut chunks & a smattering of dijon-haze sauce 12.91), I also ordered the Elk but I decided to go with the Waldork Salad (leafy spring mix, red onion, julienned beets, ripe avocado, walnuts, grilled pear then topping it all with some crumbly blue cheese 14.97). Both were quite generous portions with generous toppings, and all in all I was rather satisfied with my selection. I was however, disappointed in my burger which was a tad overdone and quite dry. Apparently they had asked JT how he’d like his burger on his previous visit, but they failed to ask us this time. When I enjoy a house-made burger, I rather like a more rounded burger than a flat patty, because it’s house made, ground on site, you need not be as concerned over having it cooked to death. My patty was flat, dry and over cooked. JT said his was a little less overdone. But two tables from us, the gentleman couldn’t eat his burger because it was too pink. It would have been nice to be asked. Normally I would have sent it back, but frankly I wasn’t prepared to wait another 20 minutes.

Would I go again? Good question. I’m not a big burger eater, so my answer would have to be no, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it for the burger lovers out there. But I suggest you wait for a couple of weeks so they can work out their kinks!

A tad overcooked for my taste

Overall rating of The Works (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2/5, food 2.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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While in Barcelona, Spain we enjoyed many tapas that we’d never tried before and one particular tapa was the Potato Omelet. Now you know that I am not a huge potato eater, but for some reason I really wanted to try it. The starch in the potato makes for a very dense and slightly chewy omelet, which was usually served as a small cube, sometime with bread but most often not.

The potato omelet is the cube centre back.
We enjoyed this plate while dining along side of the Mediterranean Sea!

Now that we’re home, I’ve experimented with other ‘fillings’ for this simple treat and yesterday I think I hit the jackpot. I made this little hors d’œuvres with a shallot, finely diced chorizo and a sliced mushroom. What made it hit the jackpot for me was the texture and because I wasn’t using a potato in this version, I needed to add something to help thicken the egg. I remembered Sissi’s recipe for a Korean Pancake (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and she added corn starch to the egg batter to firm it up. So that’s exactly what I did. Thanks Sissi. It made eight 2.5cm squares (1″) that were tasty and incredibly easy to make. You can even make it in advance and reheat.

A lovely dense texture and a little spice from the Chorizo

Chorizo, Shallot and Mushroom Omelet Tapa

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 mushroom, sliced about 2mm thick
  • 30 g finely diced chorizo (I didn’t add extra salt as I find Chorizo salty enough)
  • 20 g finely chopped shallot

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the egg and white together, add the corn starch and beat until all the lumps have disolved.
  3. Generously grease a small loaf pan 7cm x 13cm (2.75″ x 5″) or 200 mL (3/4 cup size).
  4. Add the chorizo, shallots and mushrooms and make sure they are distributed evenly in the pan. Pour the egg batter over it and tap a few times so that it reaches under and over all the inclusions. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until egg is entirely set. You may serve immediately or cool completely and reheat this mixture prior to serving.

And definitely don’t let my ingredient mix stop you from trying something you have on hand…for example, ham and gruyère cheese!

Ham, Gruyère cheese and a little Dijon

The possibilities are definitely endless. I do hope you enjoy this snack.

The potato and bacon omelet took a nose dive out the pan. It must have been possessed! And NO, for all the guys, the three second rule did NOT apply.

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On a recent visit to one of our favourite restaurants Bestellen, we chatted with our charming waiter Kirin who is originally from Bath, UK and has been living in the Junction (a short walk from our house) since he arrived about a year ago. He told us about two relatively new restaurants that opened just north or our house, one of which is the Indie Alehouse.

We were excited to try it so we met a friend and her boyfriend on a Friday for drinks and decided to have a small bite while we were there — a Restaurant Review was born.

Let me start by telling you about The Junction; called The Junction because of its proximity to where four rail lines converge and has become an up and coming neighbourhood over the last few years. House prices are still pretty reasonable (for Toronto) and although the overall atmosphere is still a little rough, it’s growing like mad.  This rough exterior adds to its unique character like the Lower East Side in NYC. Lots of young families have moved in and the shops and restaurants are starting to reflect that (when we moved to BWV about 11 years ago, The Junction was actually pretty shady and dumpy).

Indie Alehouse is one of a few new faces on the block and by the local reception, its been a void long needing to be filled. We arrived shortly after seven Friday evening and it was already bustling. We were told a table for four would be about a ten minute wait; but there were four seats at the bar, so we opt for bar seating. Before you knew it, there was a queue outside and the bar area was packed 3 deep in some places.

Indie is a 4,000 square foot brew pub, but most of that square footage must be dedicated to the brewing because the restaurant is not enormous. Decorated with a tin-tile roof, exposed brick, school house lights and warm crafted wooden tables, Indie has a comfortable vibe to it. If it wasn’t for the kitchen pass-through’s blaring fluorescent lights assaulting the warmly lit bar space the lighting wouldn’t have been half bad. And with all the hard surfaces it was rather noisy, and you know how much I like that! Perhaps sitting at a cozy table might have eliminated the overall drone of everyone talking at once, and the odd baby or child crying (yes, these folks bring children to a bar!!!!).

Our bartender (there were two or three) was attentive although my friend must have ticked her off somehow because she conveniently ignored every request my friend made so I started ordering for her. Being a huge fan of coffee beer, I ordered their Breakfast Porter and JT ordered the The Belgian Barnyard (which really didn’t taste like barnyard at all). My Breakfast Porter was a delicious dark creamy beer with coffee, caramel and malt flavours and a very subtle vanilla tone. JTs Belgium Barnyard was a light golden colour with a decent head; it had a light spicy aroma but I think he prefers something a little more robust. My friend ordered a Spadina Monkey which the bartender referred to as a sour beer with a crisp refreshing taste, not unlike a lime and lager; her boyfriend ordered the same as JT. You can also order a flight of five beer tasters for $10 — I wish we had seen that before ordering our pints. We were there for about an hour and getting hungry so each couple ordered a Chacuterie Platter ($19) to share between two of us (if you want to see a photo, click here). To be honest I was disappointed; for $19 we got maybe 100-150 g of meat, although the meat was of excellent quality.

Now we were there relatively early so it was still family time, and we may give it another chance just a little later in the evening. The noise was a downer to me because as you know I am unable to be heard.

Overall rating of Indie Alehouse (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 3/5, Value 2/5, Noise: 1/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meal for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

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Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! And anyone else who happens to celebrate Thanksgiving now. Hope you enjoyed an overload of turkey, stuffing and pies! And then there’s Black Friday, which for some reason Canadian retailers have jumped on and are promoting the heck out of it! Get out there and get some GREAT DEALS, but not before you leave me some of your lovely words.
Honestly, I don’t eat sweets. I just like to bake ’em! And fortunately, JT started a new job (and career) in June and his office are the perfect guiney pigs recipients of my baking! I wanted to bake another batch of the molasses spice cookies, but JT put in a request for something chocolate. OK, I can live with that. The cookies lasted less than one hour and JT only had two. He came home with a request for the next bake: macarons! Can you believe it?

A very tasty treat, if I do say so myself

The recipe is an adaptation from the wonderful Chocolate Crinkle Kisses I make every year at Christmas, but since it’s not Christmas yet (unbenounced to many department stores who are playing Christmas music incessantly) I altered the recipe to be a Chocolate Espresso flavour and I omitted the Candy Cane Kisses!

These cookies have a strong coffee and chocolate flavour and it’s texture is a little browny like.

An explosion of chocolate and espresso in every bite

Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies

Makes about 30-36 cookies

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup icing sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup espresso powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Sift icing sugar into a small bowl.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the cocoa powder, espresso powder and sugar.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and vanilla Into the chocolate mixture.
  4. Slowly mix in all the dry ingredients until combined. Stir in the chocolate Chips.
  5. Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough into a small ball about the size of a walnut; roll balls in the icing sugar and press flat with the palm of your hand.
  7. Place on parchment covered baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between the cookies. Bake 8-10 minutes.
  8. Let the cookies cool on the sheet; transfer to racks to cool completely before storing.

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This here post is the reason I love blogging and I’m sure most of you will agree. Blogging provides friendship and advice, cooking and sometimes otherwise. Blogging provides support; I haven’t come across a nasty person yet (well, I would delete them anyway ;-)). And last but not least, blogging provides inspiration particularly when you are deathly sick of every recipe you’ve past blogged about and can’t for the life of you come up with an idea for tonight’s dinner.

I have my friend John, From the Bartolini Kitchens to thank for tonight’s dinner: Roasted Loin of Pork stuffed with Fig Preserves and Goats Cheese. Of course, John made his own fig preserves (which I will do next year) but I had to use a store bought version. I find these store bought preserves rather sweet and I certainly didn’t want dessert for dinner so I decided to add some goats cheese to my stuffing to help temper the sweetness. It worked. PLUS it made an incredible jus for the Celeriac Potato Mash I made with it. I only made a few minor changes to John’s incredible recipe. This was definitely a dinner for the recipe books. Thanks John, again, I might add.

Come on pork, it’s your turn to shine. Work it, work it.
(It’s that time of year when the light SUCKS big time. Sigh.)

 

Pork Loin Stuffed with Fig Preserves and Goats Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 400 g Pork Tenderloin, butterflied
  • 100 g goats cheese
  • Fig preserves (home made or store bought)
  • 4-6 slices prosciutto
  • butcher’s twine
  • 2 tbsp high flash point oil, such as canola
  • Sherry for deglazing (I used cooking Sherry, but feel free to use the real thing)

Directions:

  1. Pre heat oven to 350° F.
  2. Spread a thin layer throughout the butterflied pork tenderloin. Crumble the goats cheese evenly throughout.
  3. Roll up the pork and wrap tightly with the prosciutto, wrap tightly with the butcher’s twine.
  4. In an oven proof roasting pan, heat the canola oil until almost smoking. Add the pork and cook the prosciutto until crispy on all sides. Remove pork for a minute and deglaze pan with the Sherry. Return pork and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until pork has reached a minimum of 145° F. Allow to rest before cutting into slices.
  5. If the pan has juices from the fig preserves and bits of goats cheese you will want to heat on the stove and press through a fine sieve for serving. Serve with Celeriac Potato Mash.

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Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad
(today would have been their 52nd anniversary)

We don’t often buy potatoes; it’s not because I don’t like them, I do, but they are carbs and I would prefer to eat other vegetables with less carbs and a lower glycemic index. But I bought two medium sized potatoes two weeks ago and only used one for a recipe. I had that potato sitting on my counter for another week before I figured out what to do with it.

I also had a 1/2 celeriac (celery root) in the vegetable crisper just waiting to get brown and tossed so I decided to take my celeriac cauliflower “mash” and change it up a bit with the potato. Since I didn’t have a head of cauliflower either I just made Celeriac Potato Mash. Now I love roasting vegetables because it really brings out the sweetness, so I simply roasted the celeriac (and a few cloves of garlic), boiled the potatoes and presto; what a “mash” this turned out to be! LOVE it!

Celeriac has fewer calories and carbohydrates than a potato as well, it is lower on the glycemic index than a potato so keeping the celeriac ratio higher than the potato was the right decision for me. The potato adds creaminess that you expect from mashed potatoes. This is a bit more labourious than normal mashed potatoes, but I promise you it is worth it. I hope you enjoy it. To see a whole mess of mashed potatoes head on over to Greg’s blog, he has gone all out with this savoury dish.

The star of this photo is the mash, not the pork. The pork is a Primadonna!

Celeriac and Potato “Mash”

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium celeriac, peeled and diced
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, peeled to the outer skin
  • 2-4 tbsp EVOO
  • salt to taste
  • chicken stock or milk or cream, depending on how healthy you wish to make it.

Directions:

  1. Pre heat oven to 400° F. Spread the celeriac evenly on the pan and very lightly coat with olive oil and salt.
  2. Put garlic cloves into a small ramekin and add about a finger’s depth of EVOO and salt.
  3. Bake the celeriac and garlic until both are fork tender. About 30-40 minutes into the roasting, add about 1/2 cup of water to the celeriac roasting pan and give the celeriac a good stir. When the water evaporates, they should be fork tender (if not, then add another 1/2 cup of water and repeat until fork tender)
  4. While the celeriac is baking, in a large stock pot add enough water to cover the potatoes entirely, salt generously. Cook until they are fork tender.
  5. Drain potatoes and allow to sit for a minute so that all of the water evaporates. Either rice with a potato ricer or mash gently with a fork (you don’t want to develop the starches so for heavens sake, don’t blend this with an immersion blender). Don’t add any liquid as the celeriac mash will be a touch wetter than necessary and we’ll need the potato on the dryer side. Set aside
  6. When the celeriac is fork tender, remove from the pan into the immersion blender container, squeeze out the roasted garlic, pour in the oil from roasting the garlic and blend. Blend until it is smooth, smooth, smooth, adding chicken stock, milk or cream to achieve a mashed potato consistency. Celeriac doesn’t have the same level of starch as the potato so this is the only way you will get it smooth. Push through a fine sieve and fold the mashed potatoes into the mix. Keep warm over a bain marie. Serve with the most amazing Fig Stuffed Pork Tenderloin ever (link won’t be active until Nov 21).

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This past Wednesday, through JTs work we were generously invited to the European Union Film Festival Gala Opening Cocktail reception at The Revival Bar, 783 College Street in Toronto. We weren’t planning on seeing the films, just hob hobnobbing with the EU Film Festival crowd. There were lovely hors d’œuvres and cocktails to be had, but we had other plans for eating that evening, we made reservations at Frank’s Kitchen about one kilometre from the gala!

We chatted with people from JTs work and a few new faces; it was lovely to reconnect and to make new connections! We chatted at length with Rebecka  Högdahl from the Swedish Trade Council and Dustin Woods from PR firm Marshall Fenn. We enjoyed our conversation at the EU Film Festival Gala so much, we invited them to join us for dinner. Dustin is as big a car dude as JT is, so they had lots to talk about. And girls can always find something to chat about :-).

Before I go on, I must apologize for the photos as it was rather dark in the restaurant so I had to enhance the photos in Photoshop, some worked out better than others.

Rebecka and Dustin were our guests

Frank’s Kitchen is a pleasantly decorated restaurant with flattering lighting. Even though the kitchen is open, they considered the impact of fluorescent bulbs on the tables but it is brightly lit, non-the-less which made our table directly across from the kitchen not as pleasant as some of the other tables out of the bright light range. Owned and operated by Chef Frank Parhizgar and his wife, Shawn Cooper who manages the front of the house. Shawn was very gracious to change our reservation for two to four when we showed up. It was packed on a Wednesday evening at 8pm which is a testament to the quality. The service was excellent, the waiter clearly knew the food and was quick to describe our tantalizing journey of the menu.

We were brought house made breads served with hummus and a little olive oil combo

We started our delicious journey with Chef’s wonderful Porchini Mushroom Velouté served with a spoon with a tiny ball of Goats Cheese Fritter and Cucumber Tomato Salsa. Both were exceptional. I loved the way the truffle oil just elevated the already rich earthy flavour of the velouté. Which reminds me, I should have had JTs as he is not a truffle oil fan!

The earthy flavour of the mushroom velouté was further enhanced by the truffle oil

We ordered a plate of raw oysters and Oysters Rockefeller (highly recommended by James Chatto) and neither disappointed.

Rebecka kindly snapped this photo of JT and I enjoying our appetizers

The lovely texture and not too creamy made this a very tasty experience

We were then surprised by a palatte cleanser of Sangria Sorbet.
I really had to lighten this photo.

At this point I’ve had a few glasses of wine, so I forgot to take photos of the other dishes! Sigh. I had the appetizer portion of Kobe Bone Marrow & Venison Tartare with a Foie Gras Torchon Salad, it was lovely and such a variety on the plate (click here to see a photo). The marrow was rich so I was glad there wasn’t a huge portion of it. JT ordered the Crisp gnocchi in a Gorgonzola Cream with Pancetta and it was delicious (click here for a photo). I do love a crispy fried gnocchi. Both of our guests ordered the Ontario Lamb three ways: Rack, Loin, braised Shoulder and Grilled Merquez Sausage which was a very generous portion (click here for a photo).

I loved this experience, but I must warn you, it is not inexpensive but the service, food and ambiance is well worth it. With a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine we exceeded $300 for the four of us. One small negative was that the bathrooms were not renovated (in fact, the one I went into had to toilets in the same room without a partition…just weird. NOTE: I have slightly modified my text here as Shawn kindly emailed me to bring to my attention that the bathrooms are in the process of being renovated and indeed had a sign on the door apologizing for their appearance and to use as a ‘single’ stall; regretfully I failed to mention said sign and as I was one of two people heading to use the bathroom I chose the unfortunate two toilet stall.

Overall rating of Frank’s Kitchen (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meals in full.

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This is the fallen tree. We have several in our neighbourhood,
all about the same age. I’m hoping they have stronger roots!

I’m on a bit of a lentil kick these days, and that’s rather funny as I have never really like them. My favourite is the Lentilles du Puy that I recently blogged about, but the recipe that inspired my recipe kept creeping into my head so I had to make it. It’s a warm or cold salad; for lunch the following day I had it cold over a bed of arugula and spinach (my favourite) and it was very tasty and filling (or the three F’s Full bodied, Flavourful and Filling). This shall definitely go into my repertoire for weeknight dinners and lunches. It was also very easy to make which is a bonus for everyone.

I found the lentils at Pusatari’s in Yorkville, but they were a bit more expensive than the package I bought in Lyon. I got many great tips on where to find them in Toronto from my readers and I thank you kindly. This recipe is from Epicurious and although I did not change much of it, I did change up the method considerably. Also, this would make a great vegetarian dish if you omit the pancetta, I just couldn’t help myself ;-)!

Lentilles du Puy Salad with a Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

LentilsDuPuys-1

I took this photo over again in the summer of 2014 because I really hated the lighting in the original photos. While the lentils were still warm, I folded in a good handful of baby arugula leaves and served it on a massaged Kale salad.

A feast for the eyes as well.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups water (the original recipe has 6 cups but you have to drain the remaining water)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 pancetta slices, chopped (about 3-4 table spoons)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 fresh flat-leafed parsley sprigs plus 1/2 cup leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced  (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced (about 3/4 cup)

For vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard, or to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp cup EVOO
  • 1 bunch arugula, coarse stems discarded, washed well and spun dry

Directions:

  1. In a heavy saucepan render the pancetta to a crispy consistency. Remove pancetta and add the onions and sweat until transparent. Add the garlic, type and parsley sprigs (reserve the leaves). Cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the lentils and sauté for another minute, add the water all at once and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Stir in bells peppers and simmer mixture, covered, until lentils are tender, about 10 minutes. Lentils may be made 2 days ahead and kept covered and chilled. Reheat lentils before proceeding with recipe.

Directions for vinaigrette:

  1. Transfer 2 tablespoons lentil-cooking liquid to a medium bowl and whisk in vinegars, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Add oil in a stream, whisking, and whisk dressing until emulsified.
  2. Drain lentils (if required, I didn’t have to) well in a sieve and discard parsley sprigs. Toss lentils with chopped parsley and vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Just before serving, arrange arugula decoratively around salad, or serve without as is pictured below.

I’m just about to have some, won’t you join me?

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In October we were invited to another theme dinner party: Truman Capote’s Black and White Masquerade Ball, the party of the century! We were asked to dress in black and white and wear with a mask, which worked out perfectly since Halloween was just around the corner!

Our lovely hostess made this beautiful little booklet for the evening. The menu was pulled from Capote’s favourites, Basil Chicken Hash and served similar to the style of the time. We all had a blast! Mind you, I think we lasted about 10 minutes wearing the masks! Sadly, I didn’t get any pics of JT and I. Nor did I shoot the hash…but rest assured, it was AMAZING. The basil infused the chicken and although there is nothing Thai about it, it had a slight Thai flavouring to me. This will definitely go into our steady repertoire, such a flavourful and easy dish.

My friend chose Ina Garten’s recipe which turns out to be healthier than the real deal, believe it or not; Ina uses an extra pot to sauté the peppers, but I wanted to make it much simpler and modified the recipe accordingly.

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Our lovely hosts also gave us a bit of a teaser for the next themed dinner party in the Springtime…it will be Bond 007! What fun! Now, tell me which Bond girl should I be?

Basil Chicken Hash

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

Serves 4, 100 g chicken per serving

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin removed (400 g)
  • 5 stalks of fresh basil leaves
  • dash of EVOO
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 small boiling potato, peeled and large diced
  • 1 red onion, chopped in large quarters
  • 1 red bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 minced scallions, white and green parts
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh leaf parsley
  • dash of vegetable or chicken stock
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Spray the baking sheet with non-stick spray and lay two stalks of the basil leaves down (I was lucky, I used what was left from the garden).
  3. Place the chicken breasts on top of the basil, bone side down. Lightly rub each chicken piece with EVOO and sprinkle with salt. Put two more basil stalks on top of the chicken and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and cut the chicken in large dice pieces and set aside.
  4. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large sauté pan and add the potatoes and onions, salt and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until evenly browned and cooked through. I added a dash of stock at this point. Add the peppers, garlic, thyme, paprika and tomato paste and mix well. Add the chicken and another dash of stock and place into the oven to finish for about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Garnish with the remaining torn basil leaves, minced scallions and chopped fresh parsley, toss together and place on a serving platter. Serve over greens (I only had one smallish potato but if you use the recipe as is, you will not need a side with it).

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Let’s take a moment to remember today.
*From Microsoft Clip art.

Have you ever had a dinner party cancellation at the last minute? We’ve not had them often but every few years it happens. This time it was friends who let us know Friday that the guy came down with a cold but should be OK if we don’t mind. I talked to him and he sounded fine so we said we’re on. But then at 9:25 on Saturday morning he called sounding very bad and very apologetic that he must cancel. You’re probably thinking that at 9:25am we should be OK, but the truth is I start kinda early. It’s my own fault but at that precise moment, I had just finished the gorgeous Cappuccino Panna Cotta I saw yesterday at Smidges, the bread was rising and the Moroccan Braised Beefwas already made and in the fridge (because we all know these stews are better the next day). Oh, and I just finished snapping the pic of this delicious soup. My diligence has screwed me today. I put out some feelers for the last minute stand in’s and came up short (we checked with neighbours and friends with no kids as baby sitters are hard to come by last minute). So now, I have a five course dinner for four ready, but no guests. Fortunately, I hadn’t yet made the hors d’œuvres (in fact, I was just about to get a cup of java and sit down with my new tapas cook book from Barcelona) nor had I set the table. I am sorry most of my blogging friends live so far away, otherwise, you would have received a call from me for sure. So tonight JT and I shall eat like kings and queens with a full five-course dinner and dessert to boot!

Have you ever had a last minute cancellation and how did you solve it?

The earthy golden beet was a nice compliment to the creamy celeriac.
Very tasty indeed.

Roasted Golden Beet Root with Caramelized Onion and Roasted Celeriac with Roasted Garlic Soup

Serves 4 (about 1 1/4 cup or 300 mL portion)

Ingredients:

  • 200 g golden beets
  • 300 g celeriac
  • 30 g garlic
  • 80 g sweet onion
  • Vegetable stock
  • Carnation Evaporated milk or cream
  • crispy fried onion for garnish (I hadn’t prepared it yet)

Directions:

  1. Peel and dice the beets and celeriac, spray with a bit of EVOO and roast separately for about 1 hour or until soft (I didn’t want to bleed the colours into each other). After about 30 minutes add enough water to cover the pan about 0.5cm or 1/4″ and continue roasting.
  2. Roast the garlic in a bit of EVOO and sea salt until soft.
  3. Slice the onion very thinly and caramelize on the stove top on a low setting using a bit of EVOO. This will take about 30 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender, combine the golden beats, caramelized onion and vegetable stock and purée until smooth and a consistency of creamed soup. Set aside.
  5. Using an immersion blender, combine the celery root, roasted garlic and evaporated milk and purée until smooth and a consistency of creamed soup. Set aside. Make sure ONE soup is slightly thicker than the other, this will help keep them separate in the bowl.
  6. Prior to serving, reheat both soups. Carefully pour the thicker of the two soups into half of the bowl. You can do this by tipping the bowl up a bit and use a large spoon to help keep that side clear of the other. Then, pour the thinner soup into the other side. Garnish with crispy fried onions.
  7. Cheers!

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We put a little crispy pancetta on top when we knew no one was looking ;)!

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I thought I had my workout in the gym today. That’s what I thought when I got home and prepared to go for a walk around the hood and admire the changing leaves before they are all on the ground. I was wrong. As I went into the kitchen for a glass of water (the wine would come after the walk) I noticed the hardwood in front of our wine fridge was buckling a bit. No problem, I’ll just pull out the fridge and see what’s going on. I should have waited for JT to get home because clearly I was in the ‘blue job’ territory. But I just couldn’t help myself, I’m like that. I discovered that the fridge didn’t budge; oh no, it must be buckling under it and catching the little feet. Oh no. Now THIS is a challenge. Some brains and some brawn (and some good old fashioned Eastern European sweat) I managed to get the fridge out and the boards cut out (with my handy Dremel tool, which I use about once every four years). BRING ON THE DYI, I’m freakin’ READY! Tomorrow I’m ripping out tiles from the stairs and I’m cladding them in wood!

Fortunately, there was no water or even wetness below, so there is relief because if you’ve ever had a water leak, it’s almost impossible to figure out where it’s coming from. But now the question is, why did the boards buckle? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Doing manual labour like that inspires me to bake. Fortunately, my friend’s (boss, neighbour) daughter’s after school program is having a bake sale and since my friend (Kim) doesn’t bake much, I told her I would bake some cookies for the sale. I ended up making some old fashioned ginger snaps from my recipe from last Christmas, but then I saw a version Zsusza’s delightful cookie and was immediately drawn to it. I loved the way the cookie crackled on top. Well the kid got two batches for the bake sale (maybe a few were set aside!). I made a few alterations to the recipe, so please pop over to Zsuzsa’s blog to see the original recipe, I didn’t have nutmeg handy so I substituted allspice and I also added an extra teaspoon of dry ginger as well as a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger. It makes for a lovely warmly spiced cookie. And baking cookies is a hell of a lot easier than pulling a stuck wine fridge out of its spot.

They are soft and chewy on the inside

Old Fashioned Molasses Spice Cookies

Makes about 30-36 cookies (if you don’t sample the cookie dough)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp dry ginger
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 large egg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to (175°C) 350° F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt; set it aside.
  4. In the bowl of your mixer, beat the shortening and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Beat in the molasses, egg and the freshly grated ginger and beat on low speed until just combined.
  6. Stir in the flour mixture.
  7. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
  8. Using a melon baller, form the dough into 19 g balls.
  9. Place the balls leaving at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (baking more will cause the cookies to be hard)
  11. The cookies will be very soft when you take them out of the oven but they will harden up as they cool, then transfer to a wire rack.

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We adore Mexican food, not the fast food kind, but a genuine ma and pa Mexican restaurant. Sadly we have few and far between in Toronto but there are a couple of good ones. The one I love for lunch is Cucina Lucerno down by Maple Leaf Gardens and why I love it for lunch is that they make a TO DIE FOR Sopa Azteca. Full bodied, flavourful and filling, the three F’s! When I saw the link to slow cooker chicken tortilla soup on Barb’s blog (Profiteroles and Ponytails) in her weeknight survival techniques post, I was immediately drawn to it. The sound of the ingredient combo, just made me think of Sopa Azteca (cue mouth watering), which according to Rick Bayless is one and the same! Go figure!

As Yorkesgirl recommends, I BBQ’d a couple of chicken breasts with a flavourful dry rub*, and then I shredded them and ‘finished’ them off in the slow cooker for about 20 minutes. The soup is divine and is so darn easy. You can even drop the chicken breasts directly into the slow cooker and just let it cook for hours and hours, the chicken is best shredded so over cooking is not a problem!

A very tasty soup, if I do say so myself

Sopa de Tortilla

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 2 small chicken breast, BBQ’d* with dry rub (see notes below)
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed, low sodium
  • 300g enchilada sauce (I wouldn’t bother putting this in next time).
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1 fresh green jalopeño, minced finely
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 tsp lime juice

Directions:

  1. Place everything but the chicken into the slow cooker on high, stir. Cook for 2-3 hours and then add the frozen corn and cook five minutes and then add the shredded BBQ’d chicken* and cook for 20 minutes until thoroughly heated through.
    Or, sauté onions and garlic in a soup pot, add the jalopeño, spices, cocoa and cilantro and stir until you smell the spices. Add the canned tomatoes, enchilada, water and simmer for 20-40 minutes (longer you simmer the better the flavours).
  2. Serve with a dollop of low fat Greek yogurt, a sprinkling of cheese of your choice (I had cheddar), some green onions and of course some oven dried tortilla strips. Enjoy.

*BBQ Chicken Rub

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic (not garlic salt)
  • 1 tsp ground dehydrated onion flakes

Directions:

  1. Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
  2. Remove skin from the chicken breasts and cover with the dry rub. Grill or pan fry finishing in the oven on medium heat until chicken juices run clear (around 165° F).
  3. Tent and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Using a couple of forks, shred the chicken into bite-sized bits.

I’ve had this soup a couple of times now and still have a serving in the freezer which I’m saving for a particularly ugly day when I need some soup to cheer me up.

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It must be officially fall because the temperatures have plummeted and the rains have set in, the skies are grey and the wind is noisy. Kind’a depressing weather, and it certainly doesn’t inspire so I wasn’t up to menu planning; but paging through a local grocery chain’s fall 2010 issue, JT found a recipe he thought he would like to have to spice up our weekly meal plan. We’re making chickpea and potato curry. Now I don’t usually gravitate toward potato recipes, but I was totally uninspired in making the menu this week and decided to just go for it, potatoes and all. Next time, I would add a handful of sultana raisins to add the sweetness this curry was missing. Or alternatively I think I’ll try this with sweet potatoes or even butternut squash as I think the sweetness of the sweet potato or butternut squash would be heavenly with the curry.
Do you meal plan? I generally plan out the entire week on Sunday and do the groceries Sunday afternoon. I always make enough for lunches for the following day. The planning makes my head want to explode for an hour or so but then I don’t have to think about it! I store the plan on the iCloud in my Reminders app on my iPhone and that way I have it no matter where I am (because if I’m having fish on Thursday I’ll need to pick it up from my fishmonger that day and my Reminders will remind me!)
The dish comes together reasonably quickly and cooks in about 30 minutes. I think it took me 10 minutes to prep everything (mise en place) so 40 minutes tops. And I am sure you can do this in the slow cooker, I would choose low and cook for 4-5 hours (just remember to heat the curry powder in a lightly oiled frying pan before you add it to revive the flavours). The starch in the potato makes a very nice and creamy sauce. In the recipe below I cut the potatoes down to half, as I just didn’t want as many carbs. The method for preparing the onions is a little unconventional, but it worked out very flavourful.

Warm with a touch of heat is nice when it’s blistery cold outside

Chickpea and Potato Curry

Original recipe can be found in Longos Fall 2010 magazine or here.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 vidalia onion, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated finely with a microplane
  • 1 small hot chili pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp mild curry powder or paste
  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed small (about 2 potatoes)
  • 1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 cups greens (arugula or spinach) per person

Directions:

  1. In your immersion blender, purée onion, garlic, ginger and chili pepper into a fine paste (you can do this in a mini processor too, but I find the immersion blender does a finer job).
  2. In a large deep skillet, heat oil and cook onion paste for about 5 minutes or until softened.
  3. Stir in curry powder and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add 2 cups of the water and stir to make a gravy consistency (it was actually quite liquid/soupy for me).
  5. Add the potatoes; cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender but firm.
  6. Add chickpeas, garam masala and remaining water and cook for 10 minutes or until thickened and potatoes are very tender.
  7. Serve on a bed of greens, sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

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Hi everyone, a quick update. Our hydro was restored sometime in the middle of the second night but we had already booked into a hotel not far from home. There is something so depressing about darkness, pitch darkness — not being able to find things and tripping over things, plus we wanted a warm bed and a hot shower! (Even though the house is gas heated and we have an on demand hot water domestic and heating system, the pumps are electrically operated, so there was no heat nor hot water!) I guess we could have put the fireplace on and bundled up, but not being able to shower or even eat (didn’t want to open the fridge). My biggest fear was the chest freezer in the basement but fortunately we are in great shape, there were no signs of defrosting at all. The refrigerator freezer didn’t fare so well, nor did the fridge. I suspect that when the power went off, the compressor had a lot of residual heat in it that just dissipated up (as heat rises) into the freezer and the fridge. So we had to toss a lot of stuff. But I remind myself that we were lucky, much luckier than our poor brothers and sisters to the south and east. They’ve lost more than a few shrimp and scallops! Thanks for your kind word of encouragement, we’re all good now. Now back to regular programming.

Today was a rainy, windy and chilly day. In fact, it rained all day. So uninspiring but we needed dinner tonight and lunches for the next day, so back into the kitchen I went and prepared what turned out to be a real winner: Fall Split Pea Soup with Ham.

A hearty and flavourful soup for a chilly, rainy day

Fall Split Pea Soup with Ham

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 175 g finely chopped onion
  • 175 g cubed cooked ham
  • 50 g pancetta, cut into small slices
  • 20 g garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 cups green and yellow split peas
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 5-8 cm (2-3″) cinnamon stick
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock

Directions:

  1. In a pressure cooker cook the pancetta until crispy then add the onions and until translucent.
  2. Add the split peas and sautée for a minute.
  3. Add the garlic and cumin and sautée for about 30 more seconds (or until you can smell the aroma), add the ham, water and stock. Now add the paprika and cinnamon stick.
  4. Seal the cover and cook under pressure for 45 minutes or until the split peas have softened (I use a fairly low setting). You should check the water level twice during the process to make sure it hasn’t boiled down to nothing, stir. If the liquid is too reduced, add more.
  5. Serve with a dollop of low fat Greek yogurt and home made bread.

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Spelt Egg Bread

I’ve made this bread so many times, you would wonder if I really meant that I don’t eat many carbs. Truth be told, JT adores it, so whenever we have carb-eating company, this is my go-to bread. I ran out of flour so I added a bit of spelt and it worked out amazing! Thanks Angie for inspiring me to try Spelt flour.

I also discovered well into the bread-making that I didn’t have sesame seeds. Sigh. So I improvised and omitted them from this version of the recipe. I also only wanted one loaf so I cut the recipe in half.

Fresh out of the oven, all steamy and hot!

Spelt Egg Bread

Makes 1 30cm loaf,

Original Sesame Bread (from Sawsan, Chef in Disguise)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp powdered milk
  • 1/3 cup warm water (it should feel slightly warm to the touch not hot)
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • pinch tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Combine the yeast, sugar and 1/3 cup water, stir gently and allow to bubble up and foam.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer add the flour, spelt flour, salt, powdered milk, eggs and vinegar. Rub the eggs into the flour with cookie dough hook and then switch to a dough hook to incorporate completely (apparently the powdered milk makes the dough more elastic because of the sugar content in it).
  3. Add the yeast water mixture and knead the dough for 10 minutes until you get a smooth slightly sticky dough (you may or may not need to add more water depending on the type of flour you use — spelt absorbs more water).
  4. Place the dough in a slightly oiled bowl, cover it and allow it to rise in a warm place till it doubles in size (this only takes about 45 minutes).
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 500°F.
  6. Begin by rolling out the dough to about 30cm x 25cm (12″ x 10″), then roll the dough tightly on the long end and pinch to seal. Pinch the seam along the edge as well so it doesn’t unravel. If the dough is not sticky enough, it WILL unravel, so I sometimes wet my hand and brush the entire rectangle with the water and leave it for a couple of minutes to get sticky before you roll up.
  7. Allow to rest about 20 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
  8. Bake for 5-7 minutes on the high heat, then reduce to 400°F and bake for another 7-10 minutes or until the bottom is golden.
  9. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm. Enjoy!

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