Friday, January 31, 2014

Diana's Oyster Bar & Grill: Toronto's Best Seafood

I admit it. I'm hopelessly devoted to Diana's Seafood, which I am convinced is the best place in Toronto for the widest and freshest selection of fish and seafood. And judging by her dedicated clientele of rapacious regulars who trek all the way up to Warden and Lawrence for her enviable selection of oysters, octopus, lobsters, clams and winkles to wild scallops, organic Irish salmon, sushi grade tuna and fresh whole fish, they're also attracted by the value, which at a fraction of the cost of what the same thing costs elsewhere, is worth the drive. I must go there at least two or three times a week for my fish and oyster-fix, and when I'm feeling naughty or in need of some bivalve-love, I even drop into Diana's Oyster Bar & Grill, which sits conveniently on the same property as Diana's Seafood. What a marriage made in heaven!  

Diana's new modern dining area with natural stone, warm woods and cool blue palette

Taking advantage of their superlative produce from next door, Diana's Oyster Bar & Grill offers a sleek indoor oyster bar to slurp up the freshest oysters from both coasts of Canada and the U.S., and again, at a fraction of the cost of downtown oyster bars. "There are no transportation costs. We just walk five steps across the parking lot to get more oysters," says manager Philip Ho, who used to be at Starfish as well as Rodney’s. In addition to Diana's extensive menu of seafood, soups, savouries, salads and sandwiches, they also have a decent wine list and better yet, a personable, knowledgable and friendly service staff. The food is fresh, fun and good looking. We stopped by for a quick lunch before heading into Diana's Seafood, to buy some Irish organic salmon, monkfish and a dozen oysters for our weekly oyster and martini night in front of the fire. Sometimes life is just about enjoying the simple pleasures.

Diana's Oyster Bar & Grill menu

Sliced baguette with olive oil and balsamic oil

2010 Venetio Pinot Grigio

A dozen Shigoku oysters from BC - Shigoku means ”ultimate” in Japanese — have a smooth scoop-shaped cup and firm meat with a light delicate flavour

A trio of oyster condiments

 A dozen oysters: 6 Marina's Top Drawer from BC and 6 Colville Bay from PEI, 
garnished with fresh grated horseradish and wedges of lemon 

I'm constantly captivated by the natural beauty of an oyster shell, 
such as this handsome prince from Noank

 A dozen Noank oysters from Conneticut beds

A fresh perfect raw scallop

Diana's New England Clam Chowder with chopped clams, potato, leeks bacon and cream

Seafood Pot Pie with enormous scallops, shrimp, potato, peas, corn, fennel and leeks, 
topped with a crown of puff pastry

Diana's Famous House-Cut Frites

Grilled Steelhead Trout topped with a sundried tomato compound butter and served with brussels sprouts, roasted new potatoes, butternut squash hash and celeriac purée 

Fish & Chips with beer battered BC Halibut, frites and cole slaw

Grilled Octopus with hummus, tabouli salad, wild arugula and lemon vinaigrette

Grilled Atlantic Salmon with roasted brussel sprouts, bacon, butternut squash, 
walnuts and winter squash sauce

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Marnie’s Magnificent 'Faux' Cheddar Soufflé

One of the first women who taught me about the secrets of the kitchen was Marnie. Dating her stepson for a couple of years, I was embraced as part of her culinary family. With a beautiful country escape out of the city, Marnie and her husband Bob would host weekend after weekend of impromptu drop-in guests, and would have to come up with quick luncheon menus that would be simple and easy to prepare. One of Marnie's memorable recipes was her fabulous faux Cheddar Soufflé, which looked and tasted like a soufflé, but was so much easier to make. With a handful of ingredients and a wealth of culinary knowledge, Marnie was able to create sumptuous summer afternoons with simple and delicious ingredients that resound with me to this day. 

Marnie’s 'Faux' Cheddar Soufflé 
Serves 8-10

1 loaf of country bread, crusts removed and torn into 2-inch cubes
4 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
12 large eggs
3 cups light cream
1 cup of finely chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp paprika
salt & freshly ground black pepper

In a large greased soufflé dish, place half of the bread cubes and sprinkle with half of the cheddar, then cover with a second layer of bread and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Press down gently so the mixture fits within the dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, green onions, parsley, mustard and paprika, and season well with salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the bread and cheese, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready, preheat the oven to 350°F. Uncover the dish and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the soufflé is puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately with a lovely green salad, selection of sliced cold meats and maybe a warm baguette with some ripe stinky cheese. 
Better yet, start with a tray of spicy Blood Mary's, just as Bob and Marnie used to do before lunch was served buffet-style outside in their gorgeous garden!

Bloody Mary's
Serves 8-10

48 oz tomato juice
2 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
12 dashes Tabasco, or to taste
2 cups vodka
1 lemon, sliced
8-10 celery stalks

These Bloody Mary's can be made ahead and be ready to pour over ice as soon as guests arrive. In a large pitcher, combine of the all ingredients together, except for the sliced lemon and celery, and stir. Refrigerate until ready to pour. To serve, fill each glass 3/4 of the way with ice. Stir the pitcher to combine any settled horseradish and seasoning, then pour the drinks. Squeeze a lemon slice right over the top and garnish each glass with a celery stalk.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gigot d'Agneau de Sept Heures à la Bretonne

One of our favourite Sunday meals is a roast leg of lamb, or Gigot d'Agneau, seasoned with herbs, wine, vegetables and garlic served à la Bretonne, with stewed cannellini or white navy beans. This weekend we decided to try Anthony Bourdain's French classic Gigot de Sept Heures, a leg of lamb that is slow-cooked for seven hours until it's fall-off-the-bone tender! Bourdain's recipe for Gigot de Sept Heures, infuses the kitchen with a heavenly aroma as the lamb slow cooks all afternoon, in an ambrosial broth of white wine, herbs and plenty of garlic, creating a succulent leg of lamb that "will be so damn tender, that you'll be able to eat with a spoon." A traditional French custom, that's exactly what did, serving the lamb — à la cuillère — with a spoon!

Boneless leg of lamb studded with garlic and seasoned with salt, pepper and dried rosemary with a bouquet garni and an additional 20 cloves of peeled garlic

The lamb after 7 hours of cooking at 300°F

The leg of lamb is so succulent and tender that it just falls apart, 
and is traditionally served with a spoon - à la cuillère 

White beans sautéed with olive oil, salt, pepper, bay leaf and rosemary

Gigot d'Agneau de sept heures
Serves 6-8

1 leg of lamb, about 6 lbs
24 garlic cloves, 4 thinly sliced and slivered; 20 peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
8 whole shallots, peeled
4 carrots, peeled
1 bouquet garni: sprig of parsley, thyme and bay leaf tied with string
1 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 300°F. Using a paring knife, make many small incisions around the leg and place a sliver of garlic in each pocket. Rub the lamb well with olive oil and season all over with coarse salt and black pepper. Place it in an enamelled dutch oven such as Le Creuset, or heavy cooking pot with tightly fitting lid, and add the onions, carrots, cloves of garlic, bouquet garni and wine. Cover and cook in the oven for 7 hours, and no peeking. 

Remove the lamb to a plate, cover it tightly with foil and allow it to rest. Strain the sauce into a saucepan and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes to reduce. Adjust the seasoning and serve alongside the lamb, which is traditionally served with a spoon - à la cuillère - as the French call it. Bon appétit!

Tuscan White Beans with Rosemary
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of South Beach Cookbook

4 tbsp olive oil
4 bay leaves
3 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
3 tsp fresh rosemary, whole leaves
3 15-ounce cans Cannellini or White Navy beans, rinsed and drained
Fresh ground black pepper and Maldon salt

Heat oil, bay leaves and dried rosemary in a saucepan over medium heat, until the oil begins to bubble, about 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook 2 more minutes. Add the beans and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook the beans through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and a grinding of black pepper. Serve warm.

Garlic Sautéed Rapini
Serves 6-8

2 bunches rapini, washed and trimmed
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes

In large deep skillet of boiling water, cover and cook the rapini until the stalks are tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and chill in ice water, then squeeze and pat dry. In the same skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and cook the garlic, salt and hot pepper flakes until the garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the rapini and cook, while stirring, until it warms through, about 5-6 minutes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Massaman Beef Curry: A Thai Culinary Classic

Massaman Curry is a Thai dish of Muslim origin, which according to one theory, originated in central Thailand at the court of Ayutthaya in the 16th-century through a Persian envoy and trader. According to another theory, it originated in southern Thailand due to contacts with Arab traders. In light of the recipe's Muslim roots, this coconut-based curry is most commonly made with beef, but can also be made with lamb, duck, tofu, chicken, or even pork. The flavouring for the curry usually includes coconut milk, potatoes, and roasted peanuts or cashews, in addition to a range of other aromatic ingredients which include ginger, garlic, lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, chilies, onions, cumin seeds, cardamom, palm sugar, fish sauce, shrimp paste and tamarind sauce, however lime juice works just as well. I prefer to make my own paste and sauce rather than using a store-bought version, as it produces fresher more vibrant results.

2 pounds of stewing beef, beef stock, smashed lemongrass, chopped onions and Kaffir lime leaves are simmered, partially covered for 80 minutes

Massaman Beef Curry is fragrant and flavourful. Although the list of ingredients may seem long, the sauce is very easy to make. Just toss them all into the curry as you prepare them and cook gently with the meat. Tra­ditionally, this dish is slowly simmered for about 2 hours, to thicken the co­conut milk and intensify the flavours, but it’s definitely worth the wait. In the meantime, you can sit back and relax while the curry simmers away, the beef turns meltingly tender and the intoxicating aromas fill the kitchen. Ranked as being one of the 'World's 50 Most Delicious Foods', Massaman Curry was quipped as being "the king of curries — spicy, coconutty, sweet and savoury, its combination of flavours has more personality than a Thai election!"

An array of dry aromatic spices, chopped cashews, garlic, red chili flakes, lime juice, 
brown sugar, shrimp paste and fish sauce are added

The spices are all blended in, and the diced potatoes added

Coconut milk is added...

...and stirred in

The mixture is brought to a boil and then simmered uncovered for another 30-40 minutes

The curry reduces and the flavours become richer and more complex

 Chopped cilantro is added at the end

The Massaman Curry is then served with extra cilantro, some dried red chilis 
and a few star anise

Massaman Beef Curry
Serves 4-6

2 lb beef, cut into cubes 
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1/3 cup diced onion
2 stalks lemongrass, smashed
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves

Curry Sauce:
1 thumb-piece ginger, grated
4-5 cloves garlic, slivered
1/2 tsp chili flakes 
1/4 cup chopped cashews
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground cardamon
6 star anise
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp shrimp paste 
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 14 oz can coconut milk

Place stock in a large pot over high heat and add the the beef, onion, lemongrass and lime leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce to low. Partially cover and simmer 60 to 80 minutes, stirring occasionally until meat is tender.

Add all the curry sauce ingredients plus the potatoes, stirring with each addition, holding back a few tablespoons of the coconut milk for serving, if desired. Return to a boil, then continue to simmer uncovered for 30 more minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the curry to a serving bowl or individual dinner bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro and some additional nuts if desired. Drizzle with reserved coconut milk and serve with Thai jasmine rice. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Guy's Famous Fish Pie: Comfort Food at its Finest

One of my husband's favourite dishes is Fish Pie. In fact, anything that features mashed potato is pretty high on the list, however his Famous Fish Pie reigns supreme. Inspired by a recipe by Jamie Oliver, my husband has tweaked this recipe over the years, making it his own with the addition of smoked haddock and tiny salad shrimp. I like to spike the mash with a full handful of grated cheddar, a lump or two of butter and a little cream, but that's heresy in his mind — "You don't fiddle with perfection." How can I argue? Simple, satisfying and soulfully delicious, Guy's Fish Pie is comfort food at its finest.

The chopped onions and carrots are sautéed with a little oil for about 5 minutes

The haddock and smoked mackerel are skinned, removed of small bones 
and shredded into smaller pieces

1 lemon juiced and 2 boiled eggs

1 cup of coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mashing the potatoes with some olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper

The mash is ready to go!

The sauce is made with sautéed carrots, onions, warm cream, grated cheese, lemon juice, mustard, nutmeg and parsley and blankets the fish, wilted spinach and boiled eggs

Topped with a crown of mashed potatoes, my husband likes to score the surface with a fork

Baked at 425°F for an hour, the Fish Pie was just perfect

Guy's Famous Fish Pie
Serves 6-8

5 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced into even-size chunks
2 large eggs
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and trimmed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, halved and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups heavy 15% cream
1 cup good quality parmesan cheese, grated
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 lb fresh haddock, skinned, boned and sliced into strips
1 cup fresh salad shrimp
1/2 cup smoked mackerel, skinned, deboned and shredded

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Boil the potatoes until soft, then mash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then set aside. Boil the eggs in a saucepan, steaming the spinach in a colander above the eggs, removing the spinach once it's wilted and squeeze dry. Remove the eggs after 15 minutes, let cool slightly then peel and quarter; set aside. 

In a large saucepan, fry the onion and carrot in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes then add the cream and just bring to the boil. Remove it from the heat, and add the cheese, lemon juice, mustard, nutmeg and parsley. Toss the fish and the spinach together in a large baking dish, and stir to combine. Top with the quartered eggs, then pour the creamy vegetable sauce over top. Finish by spreading the mashed potato over the fish pie, scoring the top with the tines of a fork. Bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes until the potatoes are golden and the pie is bubbling hot. You may want to place the dish on a baking sheet to catch any spill-over. Serve with some hot sauce on the side, if you want to kick it up a notch. My husband uses ketsup. So does Jamie Oliver. Go figure. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Anton Mosimann's Risotto Ai Funghi

One of the most celebrated chefs in the world, Swiss-born Anton Mosimann has catered for the British royal family as well as for 4 British Prime Ministers, 4 US Presidents and countless other dignitaries and VIPs throughout his illustrious career. At the age of 28, he was appointed Maitre Chef des Cuisines at the Dorchester Hotel in London — the youngest ever to hold this position — and during his 13-year tenure he was awarded two Michelin stars, the first time such an accolade had been given to a hotel restaurant outside of France. With his two sons Philipp and Mark Mosimann, he currently runs one of the most prestigious private dining clubs in the world, Mossimann's Club in the heart of Belgravia, where members come from the world over to enjoy its exemplary cuisine, wines and bespoke service. Although he is best known for his cuisine naturelle, which eschews ingredients like butter, cream and alcohol and focuses more on the flavours of individual ingredients, Mosimann’s signature Risotto ai Funghi, boasts all three in glorious abundance — a dish the late Princess Diana named a personal favourite.

Chef Mossiman at London's Burrough Market

Anton Mosimann's Risotto Ai Funghi
Serves 4

2 tsp butter 
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup Arborio rice 
2/3 cup strong chicken stock 

Wild Mushroom Sauce:
2 tsp butter 
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups mixed wild mushrooms, finely diced, such as shiitake, oyster, enoki 
1 tsp flour 
1/4 cup Madeira
2/3 cup brown veal stock 
1/4 cup double cream 
salt & freshly ground pepper

the reserved rice
1/3 cup chicken stock 
3/4 cup wild mushroom sauce 
2 tbsp plus 2 tsp Parmesan cheese 
5 tsp whipped cream 
3 tbsp horn of plenty mushrooms (black chanterelle or black trumpet)
2 tbsp truffle oil 
3 tbsp freshly cut chives
2 tbsp champagne
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Add the finely chopped shallots and cook until they are soft and translucent. Add the Arborio rice to the pan and stir constantly until all of the grains are well coated. Add the chicken stock and stirring gently, cook the rice for 10 minutes. Spread the rice onto a clean baking tray and allow to cool; set aside.

Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a sauce pan and gently sauté the finely chopped shallots until they becomes translucent. Add the diced wild mushrooms to the pan and cook until they soften. Sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of flour and stir until it's well blended. Add the Madeira and reduce by half. Add the veal stock and reduce by half. Add the double cream and reduce again by half. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour the mushroom sauce and reserved rice into a large heavy sauce pan, and add the following separately, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon: first the parmesan cheese, followed by the whipped cream then the horn of plenty or black chanterelle mushrooms. While stirring, add the chives, truffle oil and finally the champagne. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.