Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coconut Panna Cotta with Cointreau & Mixed Berries

Wonderfully rich in flavour and silky smooth in texture, Panna Cotta is a true Italian classic — and takes just minutes to prepare. Cream, coconut milk and sugar are placed in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves, then vanilla and gelatin are added and simply poured into some prepared moulds and chilled for a few hours. This delicious island-inspired Coconut Panna Cotta can be served with some lovely fresh berries and a whisper of Cointreau drizzled overtop for a really simple and elegant summer dessert.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Cointreau and Mixed Berries
Serves 4

1 cup half-and-half cream

1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract
1 packet powdered gelatin (about 2 1/4 tsp)

3 tbsp cold water
Cointreau and mixed berries, for garnish

Heat the heavy cream, coconut milk and sugar in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Lightly oil four small ramekins with a neutral-tasting oil.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the gelatin into the very warm Panna Cotta mixture and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take two to four hours, or let them chill overnight. If you’re pressed for time, pour the Panna Cotta mixture into wine goblets and serve them in the glasses, without unmolding. You can also make them up to two days ahead but keep them well-covered and chilled.

Gently pull the edges away on the each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish with mixed berries and a drizzle of Cointreau, or as desired.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chilled Lobster Salad with Lemon Dill Sauce

A delicious treat anytime! Fresh steamed lobster and a flavoured mayonnaise such as a delicate pernod-infused mayo or Lemon Dill Cream, and you have all the ingredients for a luscious lunch. A classic Lobster Salad usually combines the lobster meat with mayonnaise, fresh dill and lemon juice for a creamy combination typically served on a bed of lettuce, or spooned into a bun for a New England Lobster Roll. In this Chilled Lobster Salad, the classic ingredients are deconstructed, with the delicate sweetness of lobster taking centre stage. A dollop of mayonnaise, a sprig of fresh dill and a trio of lemon slices are nestled beside the lobster, for a redux version of the classic original. And instead of a bun — an elegant Martini glass. Served with a glass of chilled Rosé and a simple green salad, and you have an easy, healthy and delicious lobster-fest.

Chilled Lobster Salad
Serves 2

2 1-pound lobsters, cooked and shelled
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Fresh dill, for garnish

Place the small pieces of lobster meat in the bottom of 2 decorative serving glasses, then artfully position the tail meat so that it folds over the rim. Place the remaining claw meat beside the tails, then spoon a dollop of flavoured mayonnaise or dill cream in the centre (see recipes below). Garnish with some lemon wedges and a sprig of dill and serve.

Lemon Dill Cream
Makes 1 cup 

1 cup sour cream
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pernod Mayonnaise
Makes 1 cup

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Pernod

Whisk both ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mary Ann's Decadent Baklava

Baklava is a classic Greek pastry made with flaky phyllo dough that is layered with a cinnamon-spiced nut filling, and bathed in a sweet syrup of honey, cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s crunchy, sinfully sweet and very decadent. My friend Mary Ann makes the best Baklava I've ever tasted. It's wonderfully nutty, buttery and sticky with the sweet orange-honey sauce that she pours over the pastry as it comes out hot from the oven. Mary Ann's recipe should come with a warning — Beware: Contents are addictive!

Mary Ann's Baklava
Makes a 9"x13" tray

1/2 lb unsalted butter
1 package of Phyllo (or Filo) dough, unthawed
3 cups of walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 cup honey
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange, zest only
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt the butter. Mix the chopped walnuts, sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.

Unroll the package of phyllo dough. Using a brush, butter the bottom of a 9"x13" pan and lay down one sheet of phyllo. Continue adding sheets brushed with butter until there are 12 sheets in the pan. Spread 1 cup of the nut mixture smoothly over the pastry; add another layer of phyllo and another cup of nuts, and the same again. Continue adding layers of buttered dough until the package is finished.

Take a sharp knife and cut down through all of the layers, making diamond shapes. Once finished, put the pan in the oven and bake for one hour, or until the pastry is slightly puffed and golden on top. Don't allow the top to burn. 

While the baklava is baking, start to prepare the sauce by combining all the ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Cook the sauce for about 20 minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken slightly. Stir frequently to prevent the sauce from sticking, burning or boiling over. After 20 minutes, turn the heat off and let it cool down.

When the baklava comes out of the oven, pour the sauce overtop and leave to cool. Use a sharp knife to serve the diamond shapes pieces and enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks with Creamy Polenta

Braised Lamb Shanks is one of the ultimate comfort foods. A delicious dish that's cooked in an aromatic sauce for about 2-3 hours until the meat is so moist and tender, it's literally falling off the bone! I'm a great fan of lamb, and was inspired to make these Braised Lamb Shanks with Creamy Polenta after having had dinner recently with an old Italian friend. Since then, Italy has been on my mind and polenta was not far behind.

'Braising', from the french word 'braiser', is a cooking method that uses both moist and dry heat. The lamb shanks are first seared in some olive oil to brown the meat and enhance the flavour. They are then simmered in an aromatic liquid of red wine, orange peel, fresh squeezed orange juice, rosemary, cloves, bay leaves, tomato paste, 
sautéed onions and broth, creating the most wonderful sauce. The scent is intoxicating and permeates the kitchen, like mulled wine.

The lamb is then braised for two hours or so, until the shanks are lovely, moist and tender. The braising liquid is reduced a further 30 minutes until it's quite thick and even more full flavoured. Just before serving the lamb, the shanks are basted with the sauce and served over a blanket of silky smooth polenta, which, having been spiked with cream, butter and cheese, is a meal in itself. And for a final flourish — a towering sprig of rosemary! Buon appetito.

Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 4
Inspired by a recipe by Lidia Bastianich

2 cups hot water
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 large oranges
8 bay leaves
6 large rosemary sprigs, and extra for garnish
8 cloves
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cups onions, finely chopped
4 lamb shanks
2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
8 cups chicken broth

2 cups water
2 cups half and half cream
1 cup Pecorino cheese, shredded
1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter

Combine 2 cups hot water and porcini in small bowl. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes. Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from oranges in long strips. Squeeze juice from oranges, reserving peel and juice.

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pot. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper and add 2 lamb shanks to the pot. Sauté until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining shanks. Return the onions to the pot.

Using slotted spoon, add porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, leaving any sediment in the bowl. Add orange peel and juice, herbs, wine, and tomato paste. Boil 5 minutes, scraping up browned bits. Return lamb to pot, arranging in single layer. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Partially uncover pot, and simmer until lamb is tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning every 15 minutes.

Transfer lamb to a bowl. Tilt pot and spoon fat off top of sauce. Boil until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon lightly and is reduced to 5 cups, about 35 minutes. Discard herbs and orange peel. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Return lamb to pot, spooning sauce over to coat. (Note: the recipe can be made 1 day ahead at this point. Refrigerate lamb, uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over low heat before continuing).

To make the polenta: In a large saucepan, bring the water, cream a
nd butter to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water and quickly whisk in the polenta. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent lumps, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy. Add the Pecorino. Check for seasoning and adjust consistency by adding milk or water to the polenta. Polenta may be made up to 20 minutes ahead of time and kept warm and covered until ready to serve.

To serve: Spoon the polenta onto large platter or into individual serving bowls. Arrange lamb on top of the polenta, and spoon some of the sauce around the polenta and serve, garnishing each serving with a spire of rosemary.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Arancini di Aragosta

Arancini, or 'little oranges', are a Southern Italian specialty made with risotto that has been formed into little rice balls, coated with an egg wash, dusted in breadcrumbs and finally deep fried to a golden perfection. Aranacini are often filled with little nuggets of mozzarella, so that with the first bite, a gooey melted centre is exposed. A classic Italian snack, I was first introduced to Arancini in Venice last year, and have wanted to make them ever since. Having made a fabulous Lobster Risotto the other day, I had some leftovers and as they say, "When life throws you Risotto, make Arancini!"

Arancini Di Aragosta (Lobster Arancini)
Makes 12 croquettes

2 cups of leftover Risotto
2 oz mozzarella, cut into 1/8" cubes
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, whisked
vegetable oil

Form the risotto into bite size balls and with your little finger, poke a hole into the centre, stuff it with a small cube of mozzarella and reshape. Whisk an egg is a small bowl and set aside. Place the breadcrumbs in another bowl. Coat each risotto ball in the egg wash, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Heat some vegetable oil a saucepan over medium-high heat, and once a leftover piece of breadcrumb sizzles, the Arancini are ready to be fried. Using a small spatula or slotted spoon, roll the Arancini in the oil until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove them from the oil as they're done, and dry on paper towel. Serve immediately with an ombra, or glass of wine, as they do in Venice!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Refreshing Red Sangria

A delicious, refreshing and easy cocktail for a warm summer afternoon is a colourful pitcher of red Sangria, typically made with red wine, triple sec, fresh seasonal fruit and a touch of citrus flavoured soda or bubbly water. The word Sangria comes from the Spanish word sangre, which means blood, which is an appropriate name considering its colour. We generally use a tasty but inexpensive medium-bodied wine such as Rioja, Merlot or Zinfandel and an orange flavoured liquor such as Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or Cointreau. For fruit, I generally use the fruit of the season — raspberries, oranges, strawberries or blackberries. There's no way you can go wrong! Sangria is great for parties, because you can mix up a few pitchers and be done. So grab a bottle of wine, a few friends and whatever fruit you have on hand, and enjoy!  

Red Sangria
Makes 1 pitcher

1 orange, sliced thin, for garnish

2 cups of mixed fruit: raspberries, oranges, strawberries, blackberries etc.
1 bottle red wine (Rioja, Merlot or Zinfandel)
1/2 cup Triple Sec
1/2 cup ginger ale, club soda or 7-up

Add the wine, triple sec and sliced fruit into a pitcher. Cover and let marinate for an hour or so in the fridge. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavour! Stir before serving to redistribute the fruit, then add the soda and ice cubes. Serve in wine glasses, over ice with a spoonful of the marinated mixed fruit and a garnish of sliced orange. Chin-chin!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Luscious Lobster Risotto

Lobster can transform any meal into a celebration. This delicious risotto captures the best of the sea (mari) and is a great way to make one cooked lobster go a long way. A little saffron gives the risotto an inviting golden colour and adds a lovely buttery flavour to the soffritto. I always like to add a little Pernod to shellfish as it tends to brighten up the flavours, and gives a hidden depth to the dish. Tarragon has a similar anise quality and provides an attractive green flourish to the final presentation. I realize that cheese is not normally added to seafood dishes, but lobster is different. I feel that it's robust enough to handle a cup or two of tangy Pecorino or Parmegiano cheese towards the end. And why not — in for a penny, in for a pound! Rich and full flavoured, this divine recipe for Lobster Risotto makes a very elegant first course for up to six people and a decadent dinner for four. And it tastes as good as it looks!

Lobster Risotto
Serves 4

1 tbsp butter
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp tomato paste
8 oz cooked lobster, shelled and cut into small nuggets

5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely minced shallots
1/8 tsp powdered saffron

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 tbsp dried tarragon or 2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 tbsp Pernod
2 cups Pecorino cheese, shredded

salt and pepper

Condimenti: Heat the butter in a small skillet over moderate heat. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add the lobster and gently sauté with the tomato and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes, until the lobster is heated through. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Brodo: In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a steady simmer on the stove top.

Soffritto: Heat the butter and oil in a large casserole over moderate heat. Add the shallots and sauté 1 to 2 minutes until the shallots start to soften.

Riso: Add the rice to the soffritto, and using a wooden spook, stir for a minute or two, making sure the grains are well coated. Add the wine and stir until it's completely absorbed. Then using a ladle, begin to add the chicken broth, one scoop at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next scoop, until all incorporated. The rice should be tender yet firm. Add the condimenti and stir vigorously to combine with the rice. Add the tarragon, Pernod and cheese and stir to combine. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Add a little more white wine if you need to loosen the risotto. Serve immediately in 4 warmed serving bowls, with a sprig of fresh tarragon for garnish, if you like.

Lois-the-Lobster, who gave herself selflessly for our Lobster Risotto. Grazie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Presto Pesto: Quick Basil and Pecorino Pesto

A batch of homemade pesto is one of the quintessential flavours of summer. Bright green and redolent of fresh basil, pungent garlic and tangy pecorino, Pesto is one of the most versatile recipes to have on hand anytime of the year. I adore the flavour of Pecorino, but any full flavoured hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago work really well also — whatever you have on hand. Tossed with some pasta and a grating of cheese for a quick supper, tossed with cherry tomatoes for a zingy summer salad, or used as a base for bruschetta or quick marinade for shrimp or chicken, this fabulous recipe for Presto Pesto takes only minutes to make and is outrageously good! It also freezes beautifully, for a taste of summer all year long.

Quick Basil Pesto
Makes 2 cups

1 bunch of fresh Basil, washed and patted dry
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan), grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the basil and garlic in a food processor and blend coarsely. Add the olive oil in a slow steady stream while the motor is running. Shut the motor off and add the cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Process briefly, then scrape out into a small bowl and cover until ready to use.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cold Soba Noodle Salad

A cold noodle salad is one of the perfect side dishes for the summertime. Light, cool and refreshing, this delicious recipe for Cold Soba Noodles absorbs all the flavour of the Asian-style marinade made with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, lime zest, brown sugar, minced garlic, a touch of hot sauce and a squeeze of orange. I usually make this noodle salad when I get a craving for some fresh Ahi tuna grilled on the barbecue — seared just enough to brown the edges, leaving the centre cool. This Cold Soba Noodle Salad is equally delicious with Grilled Salmon, Black Cod or Asian Five-Spice Chicken.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad
Serves 2

2 bundles (3.5oz) of soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
3/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1/4 orange, juiced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp sriracha chili paste or similar, to taste
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1 tsp sesame seeds

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook soba noodles for 5-7 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool. Add all of the ingredients together in a medium size bowl and stir to combine. Add the cold noodles, cover and refrigerate one hour. The flavours will meld and the noodles will absorb the flavourful liquid. Serve with an extra scattering of chopped scallions and sesame seeds.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chlodnik: Chilled Polish Beet Soup

Wonderfully light and refreshing, Chlodnik is the ultimate Polish summer soup. Pronounced who-wad-neek, the key ingredients in this fabulous fuchsia coloured soup is fresh young beets. Chlodnik is typically made with a selection of crunchy raw chopped vegetables such as cucumbers and spring onions, and flavoured with some chopped dill. The soup's brilliant magenta colour can vary depending on how much dairy is used, so for a crazy crimson Chlodnik, use a little less buttermilk. Smacznego! Bon appetit.

Lovely and crunchy chunky-style Chlodnik

Chlodnik (Chilled Beet Soup)
Makes 6 cups - Serves 4-6

1 bunch fresh beets
1 English cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 bunch of dill
1 bunch of spring onions
1 cup Greek yogurt
3 cups buttermilk 
salt and pepper

Wash the beets, then wrap them individually in foil and roast at 450°F for 1 hour. Cool completely, then peel and dice the beets — use plastic gloves if you don't want crimson hands! Or take a shortcut and use canned beets.

Finely dice the cucumbers and spring onion, then chop the dill. Combine the vegetables and beets in a large pot and mix gently. Add the yogurt and buttermilk and mix again, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Chill the soup for minimum 2 hours, but it tastes much better if left in the fridge overnight as it allows the flavours to meld and become more intense.

The soup can be served as is, a little chunky, or can be processed in a blender for a finer consistency. Serve cold with a dollop of sour cream a sprig of dill, and even some chopped hard boiled eggs for a traditional Polish Chlodnik.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Berry-licious Gelato

I know. Another gelato recipe. Two in one week. It's just that it's so gratifying to make homemade gelato with all the fresh fruit in the market these days. This recipe takes advantage of fresh strawberries and blackberries and the results are spectacular! Brilliant fuschia in colour and bursting with berry goodness, this gelato recipe is one of my favourites, and makes a cool end to any hot summer evening. 

Blackberry-Strawberry Gelato
Makes 1 quart; Serves 6-8

1 lb strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1/2 lb blackberries
1/2 cup sugar + 2 tbsp
2 tbsp Framboise
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
equipment: Lello Gelato Machine

In a small saucepan over med-high heat, cook the blackberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of Framboise and 1/2 cup water, until the fruit is softened, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Place the berry mixture into a food processor and blend until combined. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing with a rubber spatula to push through. Discard seeds and rinse the food processor bowl for the next step.

Place the strawberries and 1/2 cup sugar into the cleaned food processor and blend until the berries are well combined. Then add the blackberry juice and the cream and process until well blended, about 2-3 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of the Lello Gelato machine and freeze 35-40 minutes. The gelato can be stored for 2-3 days in the freezer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Seafood Salad with Celeriac Remoulade

A lovely light salad to make during the warm summer months is an easy poached seafood salad made with large shrimp, scallops, squid and a few tiny salad shrimp for good luck. The large shrimp are shelled and deveined; the squid are cut into rings; and the scallops are cut in half. They are all then poached for a few minutes in a shallow pan of simmering water until just done, then left to cool about 10 minutes. The mixed seafood is then tossed in a light lemon dill sauce and served with a wedge of fresh lemon. I served this seafood salad over a small bed of homemade celeriac remoulade for a light crunchy surprise at the bottom. Wonderfully light and delicate, this mixed seafood salad makes a lovely appetizer or a delicious entrée with a warm baguette and a 'wodge' of Chaume cheese, for an al fresco dinner in the garden.

Mixed Seafood Salad with Celeriac Remoulade
Serves 2

10 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
4 large scallops
2 cleaned squid with tentacles
1 cup small salad shrimp
2 tbsp capers
Lemon dill sauce (see below)
1 lemon, for garnish

1 celeriac root
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
salt and white pepper to taste

Slice squid into rings and cut tentacles in half. Slice the scallops in half. Set a medium size pan of water over med-high heat and once a few bubbles start to appear, lightly poach the shrimp, scallops and squid, one type at a time and set in a colander once done. Let cool for a few minutes then toss with 1/2 cup of lemon dill sauce and some capers.

For the remoulade: Using a vegetable peeler, pare away the outer skin of the celeriac root, then slice into thin matchsticks using a mandolin or a sharp knife. Half of the celeriac root should make about 1 cup of remoulade. Toss the 'matchsticks' in a small bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice to preserve the colour and prevent it from going brown. Then add some mayonnaise and toss to combine. Season with a few caraway seeds and some salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon some of the celeriac remoulade in the bottom of each serving bowl and top with some of the mixed seafood salad, and garnish with a lemon wedge. Easy and delicious!

Lemon Dill Cream Sauce
Makes 1 cup

1 cup sour cream
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

COOK'S NOTE: A great Lemon Dill Sauce is available at Mike's Seafood at The St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. They also do a fabulous Chipotle Mayonnaise!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Grilled Asian Five-Spice Chicken

These Asian-inspired chicken thighs grill up wonderfully tender and flavorful, and take only minutes to prepare. Chinese five-spice powder is an aromatic blend of spices that have the five different flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. For this recipe, the five-spice, brown sugar, minced garlic and salt are turned into a rub for the chicken. After grilling, the chicken thighs are tossed with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, fresh ginger and crushed red pepper, then sprinkled with freshly chopped cilantro. Full flavoured and delightfully robust, the five-spice marinade gives the chicken a real kick without being too hot. Absolutely delicious, Grilled Five-Spice Chicken presents beautifully too! To round out the meal, you could serve the grilled chicken with some steamed jasmine rice, a crunchy Asian slaw or Manita's Quinoa with citrus vinaigrette.

Grilled Five-Spice Chicken Thighs with Soy-Ginger Sauce & Cilantro
Inspired by a recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine
Serves four to six

2 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Asian sesame oil

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed of excess fat
2 tbsp vegetable oil; more for the grill
3 tbsp chopped cilantro

Mix the five-spice powder, 1 tbsp of the sugar, garlic and the salt in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, red pepper flakes and remaining 1 tsp sugar.

Put the chicken in a shallow pan, or a plastic baggie, drizzle with the vegetable oil, and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the chicken; toss and rub to coat thoroughly. The chicken can be made ahead up this point and refrigerated until needed.

Once you're ready, grill the chicken on the BBQ until one side has dark grill marks, about 4-6 minutes. Turn and continue to grill until well marked on the other sides and cooked through.

Move the thighs to a serving dish. Drizzle with about half of the soy mixture, sprinkle with the cilantro, and toss to coat. Let rest 4 to 5 minutes, tossing once or twice. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with the remaining soy mixture passed at the table.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Homemade Black Cherry Gelato

One of my favourite purchases this year is my Lello Gelato Machine. Not only does it make fabulous italian-style gelato, it can also make rich ice cream, silky sorbets, fresh frozen yoghurts, sherbets and frozen cocktails such as Banana Daiquiris or Pina Coladas! With all the wonderful sweet black cherries in the market at the moment, I couldn't resist making my first Black Cherry Gelato. The process couldn't be easier — pit the cherries then purée with some cream, sugar and almond extract in a food processor. The mixture is then tossed into the bowl of the gelato machine and half an hour later — homemade Cherry Gelato!

Black Cherry Gelato
Serves 4

3 cups black cherries, pitted
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups half and half cream
1 1/2 tbsp almond extract

Pit the cherries and coarsely chop. Purée the cherries, sugar, cream and almond extract in a food processor until smooth. Pour the mixture into the bowl of the Lello Gelato machine and freeze 25-30 minutes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Boozy Baked Brioche French Toast

A rich, buttery baked delight, this easy recipe for Boozy Brioche French Toast is sublime served with some warm maple syrup and a hot steaming bowl of café au lait. The perfect beginning to any Sunday, the best part is that it's prepared the night before and simply popped into the oven the following morning! Baked in a well buttered baking dish with a spiked eggy-milk custard flavoured with your favourite liqueur, some citrus zest, dried fruits or nuts, the brioche is simply baked for 20 minutes and comes out sweet and sumptuous — cooked to crispy golden perfection. More bread pudding than classic french toast, this boozy brioche recipe is sinfully delicious and perfect for lazy Sunday mornings.

Boozy Baked Brioche French Toast
Serves 6

2 tbsp butter, softened
12  3/4" thick slices of brioche or challah bread
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp of Bailey's, Cointreau, Frangelico or your favourite liqueur
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 cups maple syrup, warmed

Thickly spread softened butter over a large rimmed baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar, maple syrup, Bailey's (or whatever you like!), vanilla extract and salt. Add milk and continue whisking until well combined. Arrange the bread slices in the baking dish. Pour milk mixture evenly over the bread slices. Turn each slice, coating both sides. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

The next morning, preheat oven to 400°F. Bake the Brioche French Toast for approximately 10 minutes or so then flip each slice of bread. Bake another 5-10 minutes, flipping again if necessary until both sides are golden brown and perfectly crispy. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with some sautéed bananas, macerated strawberries or mixed nuts, and of course a healthy dollop of warm maple syrup.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fabulous Fritto Misto di Mare

simple but indulgent pleasure, I could easily eat a whole bowl of Fritto Misto with some lemon wedges and a dollop of chipotle mayonnaise on my own. You can vary the seafood to your suit your own taste, but a lovely mixture of scallops, squid, prawns, whitebait and a firm whitefish like monkfish, cod or haddock, is the best combination. The only rule: the seafood should be absolutely fresh and eaten as as soon as it comes out of the pan. Thrown together in a spicy mixture of cornflour, semolina and Old Bay seasoning, the seafood is flash fried in very hot vegetable oil for a few minutes, just until they've reached the perfect level of golden crunchiness. Served with a cold glass of Pinot Grigio, enjoy the fritto misto while it's still nice and hot. As they say in Naples, frijenno e magnanno — "fry it and eat it!"

Fritto Misto di Mare
Serves 4-6 as a first course

4 cups of vegetable oil, for frying
2 tbsp cornflour
4 tbsp semolina flour
2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 lb squid, tubes and tentacles
1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 lb large scallops
1/2 lb whitebait
1/2 lb monkfish, sliced into 1" pieces
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Heat the oil in a small saucepan, and while it's warming, cut the squid into rings. Put the cornflour, semolina and Old Bay seasoning in a large freezer bag and add mixed seafood in batches, tossing to coat. When the oil is hot enough, which it when it sizzles a small piece of bread, fry the seafood in batches to get the most golden crunchiness. A couple of minutes per batch is all you need. Lay the cooked seafood on a paper towel, as you continue to fry the remainder of the misto. Serve with lemon wedges and your favourite mayonnaise. I like Mike's Chipotle Mayonnaise from the St. Lawrence Market!

COOK'S NOTE: I like to throw in some sliced lemon and parsley into the misto while it's frying, for and added taste and colour sensation!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Manita's Quinoa with Citrus Vinaigrette

A super healthy Peruvian "grain," quinoa is as delicious as it is healthy. The most challenging thing about quinoa is learning how to pronounce it — keen-wah. While quinoa tastes and cooks as if it were a grain, it's actually a seed and has a light, mild flavor and somewhat chewy and creamy texture. It can be used much like couscous, but it’s much easier to manage as it doesn’t stick together as couscous can. It also does a wonderful job of absorbing the flavours of dressings or vinaigrettes, and can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. 

My great friend Manita introduced me to this amazing grain while I was in Miami, and it's now my favourite new ingredient! Quinoa is versatile, delicious, and loaded with nutrients that will keep you healthy, happy, and slim. Not only is it a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, but it is also gluten-free, easy to digest and incredibly easy to incorporate into your diet. When cooked, its light and fluffy texture makes it the perfect healthy substitute for rice or couscous. What's not to like?

Manita's Quinoa with Citrus Vinaigrette
Serves 12

2 cups Quinoa
3 cups water

vinaigrette: makes 1 cup
juice of 2 oranges
zest of 1 orange
segments of 1 orange, diced 
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup diced cucumber (my addition)
4 shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and diced
slivered almonds, toasted

Put the quinoa in a large pan. Pour in 3 cups of cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10–12 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is transparent. Drain and leave to cool.

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the oil, shallots, citrus juices and half of the orange zest

Combine the cooked Quinoa with half of the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly. Then add the olives, orange segments, remainder of the orange zest and cucumber, if you wish. Check the seasoning and adjust according to taste. Serve immediately with toasted almonds, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Note: Spoon additional dressing over the quinoa salad before serving.

Incredibly versatile, you can add any of your favourite ingredients to cooked Quinoa and customize your own special recipes. Simply add some grilled asparagus and shitake mushrooms to cooked Quinoa and toss with some toasted nuts and a simple citrus vinaigrette for a tasty Grilled Asparagus and Mushroom Quinoa Salad.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Miami: Timon Balloo's Sugarcane

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
in Midtown Miami is a busy place on a Saturday night, catapulted to the top of Miami's dining scene with the creative cuisine of Timon Balloo, Sugarcane's talented Chef de Cuisine and candidate for The People's Best New Chef honours by Food & Wine magazine. 

The interior of Sugarcane

The decor of the restaurant stays loyal to the authenticity of Miami with inspiration from colonial Spanish-style architecture. The space has a vibrant modern aesthetic with masses of wooden ceiling fans, in the shape of palm leaves, whirring in unison overhead, giving the space a sort of colonial-industrial feel. The pretty garden courtyard and large open-air bar draws crowds every night — especially on hot summer evenings!

Sugarcane's garden setting courtyard

The outdoor bar, which hums every night — standing room only after 11pm!

With three distinct kitchens — a hot kitchen, raw bar and robata — a Japanese charcoal grill — Sugarcane focuses on a shared experience with its tapas-style menu. Using only the freshest seasonal, local ingredients, Chef Timon Balloo offers daily dishes inspired by Miami's South American and Latino-Cuban roots.

Sugarcane's Chef de Cuisine, Timon Balloo

Inside the kitchen at Sugarcane

Sugarcane’s philosophy of sharing transcends throughout, with conceptual small plates like Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with linguiça sausage and manchego cheese; robata-grilled Octopus with aji panca (a Peruvian red pepper sauce); succulent Squid marinated in a tangy lemon ailoi; and mouth watering Korean Style Beef Short Ribs — so good we had to order two servings!

Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with linguiça sausage and manchego cheese

Octopus with aji panca sauce

Korean Style Beef Short Ribs

Squid marinated in a tangy lemon ailoi

Tapas style dishes include Steamed Pork Buns with apple kimchi; delicious Bone Marrow with veal cheek marmalade; Broccolini garnished with an aromatic truffle fondue and toasted garlic; Roasted Brussel Sprouts marinated in sweet soy and orange; Veal Kidneys with onion purée and whole grain mustard jus; and fabulous Duck & Waffles, where warm Belgian waffles meet their match alongside crispy duck leg confit with a sunny-side up duck egg and topped with a small jug of sweet maple & mustard seed syrup.

Steamed Pork Belly Buns with apple kimchi

Roasted Brussel Sprouts marinated in sweet soy and orange

Veal Kidneys with onion purée and whole grain mustard jus 

Duck & Waffles with crispy duck leg confit, fried duck egg 
and maple syrup with mustard seeds

Bone Marrow with veal cheek marmalade and ciabatta

Specialty sushi rolls include crunchy tuna with avocado, spicy tempura flakes and sweet chili; kobe beef with shiso leaf and pink peppercorn mustard; and the Sugarcane roll with lobster, endive and tomato salsa. The hot kitchen also offers Balloo’s large plates with feature whole roasted chicken served with truffle fingerling potatoes and shiitake mushrooms; daily hand-carved meat with garden vegetables; and whole roasted Branzini with lemon and herbs. To complement the tradition of sharing, Sugarcane offers freshly muddled libations in pitcher-portions — from white or red sangria to limey-mint mojitos. The menu also features bubbly by the glass and lots of inventive cocktails.

Sugarcane's whole roasted Branzini — the grilled fish of the evening

But save room for dessert. Our waiter insisted that we order the Torrejas — the sinfully delicious Spanish/Mexican version of french toast, made with baked brioche and topped with sautéed apples and vanilla ice cream, in a maple caramel sauce. I'm so glad we took his advice — it was delicious!

Torrejas with Maple Carmel Apple and Cinnamon Ice Cream with Piecrust Crumbles

Haisam, our charming Venezuelan waiter

It's understandable why Sugarcane has garnered so many accolades. With their extensive tapas style menu, friendly service, spirited ambiance and enviable cocktail list, patrons just kick back, eat well, and stay awhile. We did just that — enjoying a luscious three hour dinner, sharing 16 small plates, two jugs of Mojito's and lost of laughs! Many thanks to Randy, Dina and Manita for leading me astray in Miami!


3250 Northeast First Avenue,
Midtown Miami