Thursday, June 30, 2016

Inn on the Twenty: Niagara Wine Country Cuisine

Pioneering the concept of a regionally focused cuisine, On The Twenty Restaurant opened its doors in 1993, beginning the entire regional cuisine movement in Niagara. Considered one of the best Niagara winery restaurants for its farm-to-table approach, it continues to celebrate Niagara’s bounty. Located in Jordan Village, and situated in the Cave Spring Cellars winery building, which dates to 1871, the building also features private dining rooms, artisanal boutiques, antiques and clothing shops. Whether staying at the Inn, exploring Jordan or enjoying a day of wine tours, On the Twenty is lovely for lunch or dinner serving delicious local cuisine with spectacular views of the Niagara Escarpment.

The menu features Niagara wine country farm-to-table cuisine

Cave Spring Dry Rosé 

Fresh baguette and sweet butter 

Baby Gem Lettuce with 'Pingue' prosciutto, oven dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and lemon dressing, shaved parmesan cheese with focaccia crostini

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

Beer Battered Lake Huron whitefish and rosemary salted pomme frites with fresh lemon, caper mayonnaise and chipotle ketsup

Ohme Farms Spinach and Leek Deep Dish Quiche with Aged Cheddar

Victory Herb Farms organic greens with sherry vinaigrette

Mixed Berry Steamed Pudding with vanilla whipped cream

Walnut Blue Cheese Tart with Cabernet Franc Jelly
Serves 8-10

This unusual appetizer is certain to impress guests at your next dinner party. Serve this tart warm with a few baby salad greens to finish off the plate.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and ground
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsps unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled

6 oz blue cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 egg
1/2 cup walnut halves
4 fl oz Cabernet Franc Jelly

Combine the flour, ground walnuts, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter until the texture of coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons of cold water and mix just until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 1/2 inch thick. Line a 9-inch tart shell or pie pan with dough and trim edges. Chill for 20 minutes. Line tart shell with foil and weight with dried beans, rice of pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes weighted, remove foil with weights, and bake 10 minutes more. Allow to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Blend together blue cheese, cream and egg. Pour into bottom of tart shell and top with walnut halves. Bake for 15 minutes. While tart is baking, melt Cabernet Franc Jelly in the microwave or over the stove. When tart comes out of the oven, brush melted jelly over surface of tart and serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mamakas Greek Taverna: Modern Aegean Cuisine

Bringing a fresh sophisticated approach to Aegean cuisine in Toronto, Mamakas is a nod to heritage, history and family memories. Serving traditional mezze and grilled meats inspired by the authentic coastal Greek and Turkish cuisine that owner Thanos Vrettakos Tripi grew up with at home, Tripi’s entire menu is a reflection of his mother's recipes passed down through generations, including flaky spanakopita and whipped taramosalata topped with salmon roe. Derived from the Greek word "Mamakias" meaning mama’s boy, Mamakas is a tribute to family — even the hand-lettered on the front window is the same that was on Tripi’s grandparents’ first store in Athens which translates as 'we sell everything'. Large windows give the narrow, whitewashed room a bright sunny feel, strings of bare bulbs blanket the ceiling like stars and a long back-lit mural of 'karagiozis', traditional Greek shadow puppets dressed in ballerina tutus and chef hats, add a touch of whimsy. The food is sensational, traditional Greek dishes with a modern twist and designed to share. Each plate is thoughtfully crafted to evoke the way Thanos’ grandmother cooked, inviting guests to explore the Greece he grew up with through food, art and music — everything just as Thanos’ family has done through the ages.

The bright long and narrow white and blue interior

Our table in the front window of Mamakas

Our animated and friendly server opening our bottle of 2015 Thalassitis Santorini White Wine

The seasonally changing and always delicious menu at Mamakas



Delicious pitas made each morning in-house by Cora James

Fried Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with Mizthra cheese, mint and lemon

Xifias - Cured Swordfish with sea asparagus, shaved fennel, radish, dill and lemon

Mediterranean Sea Smelts

Okapodi - Grilled Octopus with Santorini faves, caper flowers and pickled onions

Imam Bayildi - Roasted Eggplant with tomato, onion, chili, walnuts and herb salad

Tiganités Patates - Handcut potatoes with kefalotyri cheese and garlic sauce

Whole Grilled Bream seasoned with latholemono, Santorini capers, lemon and caper leaves

Grilled Asparagus with grated kefalotyri and fresh lemon

Kotopoulo - 1/2 Roasted Mountain Tea Brined Chicken with potatoes, carrots, peas and fava beans

Ekmek Kataifi - White Chocolate and Yogurt Cream with preserved barberries and lemon sorbet

Baklava with walnuts, pistachios and milk + honey ice cream

Chris Kalisperas is the new chef at Mamakas

Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Pastry Chef Cora James, Mamakas

1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups chopped walnuts
2 cups chopped pistachios
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup honey
18 sheets Phyllo pastry, cut to the size of whatever baking tray you’re using
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick

In a medium pot on low heat, melt the butter. In a large mixing bowl, combine and blend the walnuts, pistachios, ground cinnamon, cloves and 1/2 cup of honey. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a brush, coat bottom of a 2-inch deep baking tray with melted butter. Place 1 sheet of phyllo in the tray and brush with butter, and repeat until you have 8 layers. Using your hands, spread half of the nut mixture over the phyllo, then add 5 more layers of phyllo and butter. Spread the remaining half of the nut mixture over top. Layer the final 5 sheets of phyllo and butter. Portion baklava with a knife before baking, to prevent brittle dough from shattering after. Bake in the oven until golden brown on top, about 25 minutes. 

While the baklava is baking, prepare the syrup by combining sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks and remaining 1/4 cup honey in a pot. Bring to a light boil. Strain the hot syrup and pour over finished baklava. There will be an excess of syrup in the pan, but once cooled, the baklava will reabsorb much of the syrup. Cool before serving.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Piegaro: Bistecca alla Fiorentina di Chianina

Tucked away behind the Medieval walls of the small village of Piegaro in Umbria, is a tiny family-run butcher called Macelleria Antico Borgo di Zugarini Michele. Specializing in local Umbrian beef, veal, lamb, pork and wonderful handmade prosciutto, salumi and salsiccia, they are also known for their celebrated Bistecca alla Fiorentina produced from the local Chianina breed of cattle, prized for their exquisite tenderness and fabulous flavour. Having enjoyed delicious Bistecca alla Fiorentina in restaurants from Gubbio to Montepulciano, we became rather obsessed with wood fire grilling our own bistecca at our villa not too far away. With a generous rack from which to choose, the lady butcher of Macelleria Antico Borgo carved off a 3-inch thick rib of beef, wrapped it up and at just 20 euros, was a third of the price we would have paid at any great restaurant. The challenge was — could we do it culinary justice? Brushed with a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and set on a grill over the burning embers in the pizza oven, the steak was medium rare and absolutely delicious. Served with some crisp roast potatoes and a lovely bottle of wine — delizioso!

Macelleria Antico Borgo di Zugarini Michele owner carving our Bistecca alla Fiorentina from the region's Chianina breed of cattle which are prized for their tenderness and flavour

The simple exterior of Macelleria Antico Borgo 

Our 3-inch thick Fiorentine steak

The wood fired pizza oven ready for the bistecca

Brushed with a little olive oil and garnished with a pinch of salt, the steak was placed on a grill in the wood fired pizza oven and cooked over high heat for less than 10 minutes 

Patate Arrosto al Rosmarino

Monday, June 27, 2016

Tagliatelle al Ragù Bolognese: Homemade in Umbria

Inspired by the beautiful kitchen and brand new pasta machine in the villa that we were staying in Umbria, we decided to make homemade pasta dough the first night we arrived. In addition to the flour and bolognese ingredients, we also bought two wooden broom handles to act as our impromptu pasta drying rack. Suspended between two kitchen chairs - albeit unconventional - the "rack" was a complete success, providing ample space to hang our mounds of fresh made tagliatelle and spaghetti. Our first dinner was Tagliatelle al Ragù Bolognese, the perfect comfort food after a long day of travel. With just five simple ingredients and half an hour of mixing, kneading and rolling, the pasta was hung to dry as we started to make the Ragù Bolognese using a cup of Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso to enrich the sauce, with the remainder poured into our wine glasses as we watched the sunset and looked forward to our rich, hearty Ragù Bolognese made with our lovely tagliatelle — la vita è troppo breve per mangiare e bere male!

Inspired by the bright beautiful kitchen and brand new pasta machine in our Umbrian villa, 
we made enough dough the first night for both tagliatelle and spaghetti 

Using two new broom handles purchased at the local 'Supermercato', 
we fashioned up a system for drying all of our homemade pasta 

Homemade Tagliatelle and Ragu Bolognese 

Homemade Tagliatelle al Ragu Bolognese
Serves 8

1 lb Tipo '00' flour
5 whole large eggs
2 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Bolognese Sauce:
2-3 tbsp olive oli
3 lb lean ground beef
5 cups homemade tomato sauce, or good quality store-bought
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1 cup red wine
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 cup coarsely grated Pecorino 

On a clean dry surface, mound the flour and make a well in the centre. In a bowl beat the eggs, yolks, salt and olive oil, then pour the mixture into the well. Using a fork or your hands, slowly incorporate the flour into the egg mixture, and mix until the ingredients are well incorporated, then knead until the dough is smooth, about 4-6 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Cut dough into quarters, and flatten one piece into a rectangle, covering the remainder with a towel. Using a pasta machine, pass the dough through the roller set at the widest setting and then run it through one more time. Decrease the setting one notch and roll the pasta through again; repeat, decreasing setting by one notch each time until you've reached the second-to-last setting, creating a 1⁄16-inch thick sheet, then pass it through the pasta machine using the tagliatelle attachment. Have a large floured baking tray ready and place loosely gathered bundles of tagliatelle onto it, or hang from a dowel to dry. Repeat the process for the remaining pasta dough, and allow to dry for at least an hour and up to 3-4 days. Alternatively, for a handcut tagliatelle, lightly roll the sheet from the short end and cut it crosswise into 3⁄8-inch wide strips, and dry it in the same way.

In a large frying pan, pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan set on medium-high heat and add the ground beef, stirring frequently until the meat is no longer pink and is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, a teapoon of sugar, and stir thoroughly to combine. Turn the heat down to low, then pour in the red wine and continue stirring until the mixture is the desired consistency. Cover the sauce and continue cooking on low heat to meld the flavours, about another 30-60 minutes.

Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat, and when it comes to a rolling boil, add the homemade tagliatelle and cook until the desired consistency, about 5 minutes, drain in a colander then return to the bolognese sauce. Serve in warmed dinner bowls and sprinkle with some grated pecorino.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Guy's Wood-Fired Umbrian Pizza Margherita

One of the most romantic visions of renting a villa in Italy is the promise of making homemade pizza in an authentic wood fired oven. Blessed with quite possibly the most handsome pizza oven in all of Italy, our destiny was set: to prepare the dough using tipo '00' flour, water and yeast, then allow it to proof all day until the magic hour. Using dried twigs and some pages from 'La Repubblica', a small fire was started in the oven an hour or so before sunset, then augmented with small logs, graduating to larger ones as the fire took hold — a process that takes about 20-30 minutes. With an internal temperature of about 800°F, it was time was roll out the dough, slice the buffalo mozzarella, lay out the lovely plump Italian anchovies and ravage my basil plant. Having prepared some homemade tomato sauce the day before, we were ready to create the perfect pizza. Using a long round iron pizza peel, the raw Pizza Margherita was placed into the oven and shimmied onto the hot surface and cooked for just over a minute — and it's done. The dough was crisp and chewy, the cheese melted and the smell sublime. With enough dough to make 2 more pizzas, we uncorked a Montefalco Rosso, toasted our success and wood-fired two more hot and delicious Umbrian Margheritas.

Our very handsome wood fired pizza oven, with an ample pile of wood within arms reach

Surrounded with roses, the pizza oven house is beautiful anytime of the day

Guy's homemade pizza dough brushed with olive oil around the edge, then topped with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella di Bufulo, fresh basil and anchovies

With ample wood and dried twigs, a lovely fire was produced in about 20-30 minutes

Once the heat reaches the correct temperature, the logs and hot ash are pushed to the side to allow the pizza to slide inside the oven

Smoke coming from chimney announces that the pizza oven is ready for our magnificent margheritas

The gorgeous pizza going into the wood-fired oven

The pizza bubbling hot and delicious — a triumph!