Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chilled Creamy Avocado & Cucumber Soup and Crab

Creamy avocado and fresh cucumber partner exquisitely in this refreshing Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup, perfect as an elegant first course or light summer lunch on a hot afternoon. Low in carbs and high in savoury and sensory appeal, this delicious soup can be prepared well in advance and simply chilled until it's ready to be served. Just purée all of the ingredients together in a blender or food processor with a dollop of crème fraîche and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and enjoy this tasty tribute to summer's abundant produce. Splurge with a garnish of cooked lobster, flaky crabmeat, or perhaps one or two large sautéed prawns, along with some chopped tomato, avocado and a shot of tabasco. Rich and creamy, this soup is best enjoyed in smaller portions, such as small bowls or shot glasses with a colourful array of festive garnishes to celebrate the season.

Chilled Avocado & Cucumber Soup with Crab
Serves 4

2 english cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium avocado, chopped
3 green onions, chopped 
1 cup buttermilk 
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream 
juice of 1 lime 
2 tbsp chopped cilantro 
1/4 tsp ground cumin 
salt, to taste 

2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 can cooked crabmeat 
Fresh ground white or black pepper

Place all the ingredients together in a blender and process until smooth. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours. To serve, pour the soup in decorative glasses or bowls, and garnish with chopped tomato, avocado, and flaked crabmeat with a grind a little fresh ground pepper to finish.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Whole Grilled Lavraki: Mediterranean Sea Bass

Lavraki is a Mediterranean sea bass, indigenous to the shores of Greece, and is considered a prized fish in Europe. In France, they are called Loup or Bar, the Spanish call them Robalo, and in Italy they are known as Spigola or, more commonly, as Bronzino. In Greece, Lavraki are a near mythical fish, ever elusive. In fact, when Greek journalists stumble upon a great story — snag that rare exclusive scoop — they call it a Lavraki. Stuffed with fresh herbs, lemon and sliced ginger this recipe for Whole Grilled Lavraki is easy to prepare and makes a gorgeous main dish, especially on a hot summer evening under the stars.   

Whole Grilled Lavraki
Serves 2

2 medium Lavraki, at room temperature - cleaned and scaled by your fishmonger
1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 handful fresh mint and lemon thyme
1/2-inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
2 lemons, one finely sliced and the other cut in half for grilling

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Light an outdoor grill or barbecue to high heat. Season the inside of the lavraki with salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and rub the outside with the olive oil and season well with kosher salt which will help ensure a wonderful crispy skin. Stuff with lemon slices, sliced ginger and sprigs of fresh mint and lemon thyme. Place the lavraki and lemon halves on a foil lined baking sheet for easy transport to the barbecue.

Grill the fish over high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp and just cooked through, about 7 minutes per side, adding the lemon halves cut side down for the last 3-4 minutes. Serve the lavraki straight away, and garnish with the grilled lemon wedges for squeezing overtop of the fish.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Grilled Lamb & Vegetables with Arugula, Mint & Feta

Ideally suited for summer grilling, Rack of Lamb is one of my favourite cuts of meat, and when sliced into single or double chops and marinated in a fragrant elixir of garlic, fresh mint and rosemary, the flavours are positively intoxicating. Blended together in a food processor, and loosened with a little olive oil to produce a smooth paste, the marinade is simply massaged into the lamb chops and then abandoned to works it's magic for an hour or so. Grilled with a medley of mixed vegetables in a non-stick grill basket, they can be cooked beside one another then served as a sensational summer salad. Any combination of vegetables will do, but I love the colour and flavour of broccoli, red pepper, mushrooms and baby red onions garnished with a little feta once served. Easy, healthy and delicious, Grilled Lamb Chops with Wok-Grilled Vegetables make a fabulous summer meal when it's just too hot to do anything else.

New Zealand Rack of Lamb cut into individual chops and marinated with garlic, olive oil, 
fresh rosemary and mint

Grilled Lamb & Mixed Vegetables with Arugula, Mint and Greek Feta
Serves 2

1 rack of lamb, cut into single chops
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, pulled off the stem
2 tbsp fresh mint, plus an extra handful for garnish
3 tbsp olive oil
Maldon salt and fresh ground pepper
6 cups wild baby arugula

BBQ Wok-Grilled Vegetables with Feta:
1/4 head of broccoli, cut into small bite size pieces
4 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large shallot, skinned and quartered
3 scallions, trimmed and cut into 3-inch long pieces
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
2 oz Greek feta

Add the garlic and fresh herbs to a small food processor and blend to emulsify, then add the olive oil and blitz again until the marinade becomes a smooth paste. Pour the marinade into a shallow glass baking dish, then add the lamb chops and toss thoroughly to ensure all of the meat is well coated with the marinade. Cover and place in the fridge for 2 to 4 hours.

Return the lamb chops to room temperature before grilling. Meanwhile, place all of the chopped vegetables in large bowl and just before they are to be cooked, toss with a little olive oil and oregano, then set aside. 

Preheat the BBQ to high heat. When hot, pour the vegetables into a non-stick grilling basket and place on the grill. Cook while tossing the vegetables frequently for about 10-12 minutes, or until the vegetables are just done. To serve, spoon the grilled vegetables back into the bowl and then set aside and season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Grill the chops for 3 minutes per side for medium. To serve, lay the arugula on a large platter then spoon the grilled vegetables over top, then arrange the lamb chops on top and garnish with the feta cheese and the remaining whole mint. Season with a little Maldon salt and serve.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Parmigiano Trattoria: Rustic Italian in Lawrence Park

A cozy Italian trattoria with comfortable neighbourhood charm, Parmigiano serves Northern and Southern Italian inspired cuisine, using local ingredients and property-grown organic herbs and vegetables. Chef Kunman's menu features the usual Italian suspects such as Bruschetta, Caprese Salad and Grilled Calamari, a selection of over 20 pastas and risottos including Baked Manicotti, Spaghetti Bolognese, Gnocchi Toscana, Tortellini Quattro Formaggio and Risotto con Funghi, as well as their ever popular pizzas such as The Mediterranean with red pepper, eggplant, spinach, red onions, feta cheese and mozzarella cheese, and Toscana with tomato sauce, grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, roasted peppers, black olives, goat cheese and mozzarella. Entrées also pay homage the family of Italian favourites including Eggplant Parmigiano, Veal or Chicken Marsala, and Vitello Con Funghi with mushroom white wine cream sauce. A popular local "Italian" for "Larry Park" regulars, Parmigiano is open seven days a week and always busy. 

The cozy casual interior of Parmigiano Trattoria

Spaghetti Bolognese

Linguine with black tiger shrimps, scallops and lobster tail with sun-dried tomatoes 
and capers in a basil pesto-garlic sauce

Spaghetti with Calabrian-style meatballs and mushrooms in tomato-basil sauce

Eggplant Parmigiano

Whole Grilled Branzino

Friday, June 16, 2017

Churrasqueira Martins: Superb Portuguese Cuisine

Owned and operated by Carlos and Samantha Martins since 1992, Churrasqueira Martins Grill House is a neighbourhood gem, tucked away in a lacklustre plaza near Rogers and Old Weston Road in the Rockcliffe-Smythe area of West Toronto. Famous for its succulent Barbecue Chicken and bathed in their famous sauce, there’s no rotisserie here — chicken is cooked the "authentic way," butterflied over a rotating horizontal charcoal grill. The classic BBQ sauce that completes the meal is an old family recipe. Martins also imports whole fish twice a week from Portugal which come in fresh on ice, never frozen, and serves quite possibly the city's best grilled fish and seafood in the city. Cooked to perfection and flavoured with love, the Grilled Octopus is the best I've ever had.

Relaxed and informal with an outstanding menu of over 60 Portuguese classics and extensive wine list including their own wine brand of house red and white, Martins sensational cuisine is only matched by their warm, friendly and gracious staff, helpful with any menu recommendations and attentive to our every whim. Arriving for a weekday lunch on a sunny summer afternoon, we began with complimentary plates of Presunto, a traditional dry-cured ham from Portugal, as well as heaping bowls of spiced olives, as we perused the mouthwatering menu. Our lovely server Jason, started us off with two bottles of Martins house white and red wine, followed with an assortment of appetizers including delicious Grilled Squid topped with parsley infused olive oil, Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato — clams in white wine and cilantro butter — and an impressive platter of gorgeous Grilled Tiger Shrimp. As entrées, we dove into a selection of Martin's signature dishes: Bacalhau à Lagareiro: Grilled Salted Cod; Dorada Grelhada: Grilled Whole Sea Bream; Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled Sardines sprinkled with sea salt and lemon and Slow-Roasted Charcoal-BBQ Chicken with fresh cut french fries. Open seven days a week, there is absolutely no place outside of Lisbon to find better grilled fish and seafood than Churrasqueira Martins. It will take great restraint on my part not to go back each and every day — "Obrigado a todos".

The warm, inviting and elegant interior of Churrasqueira Martins

Complimentary plates of Presunto, a dry-cured ham from Portugal, are brought to the table as diners peruse Churrasqueira Martins extensive menu of classic Portuguese dishes

Bowls of spiced olives are also set out to enjoy

A bottle or two of sparkling water was a sensible beginning to our indulgent pescatorian feast

Our warm and gracious server Jason presenting Churrasqueira Martins house white wine

Light bodied, cool and crisp, the Portuguese white wine was delicious

Lula Grelhada: Grilled Squid topped with parsley infused olive oil

Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato: Clams in white wine and cilantro butter

Gambas Grelhadas: Grilled Tiger Shrimp

Bacalhau à Lagareiro: Grilled Salted Cod served with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables

Dorada Grelhada: Grilled Whole Sea Bream served with broccoli, carrots and broccolini

Slow-Roasted Charcoal-BBQ Chicken served with a pot of chili-laced Piri-Piri sauce, 
the iconic blend of chili, lemon and oil, and fresh cut french fries

Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled Sardines sprinkled with sea salt and lemon

My spectacular Grilled Octopus served with asparagus, broccolini, carrot and picked onion

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Leek and Potato Soup with Bacon, Sour Cream & Dill

A traditional Irish dish, rich and creamy Potato and Leek Soup is frugal, filling and full of flavour, and can also be made in little more than half an hour. Leeks and onions are simply sautéed in butter until soft, then added to diced potatoes and chicken stock and simmered for 30 mintes. The soup is then puréed with dill until silky smooth and seasoned with salt and white pepper. Simple and delicious, this heartwarming soup is taken up a notch with two perfect partners — dill and bacon. Hearty, warm and delicious, Potato and Leek Soup with Bacon & Dill is is one of the most rich and satisfying on a chilly day.

Leek and Potato Soup with Bacon, Sour Cream & Dill
Serves 4-6

4 tbsp butter
3 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only
3 cups of yellow onions, finely chopped
3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup sour cream, for garnish
5 rashers of crumbled bacon, for garnish

Cook the bacon then drain on paper towel; crumble and set aside. In a large pot, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and broth, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 25-30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the dill. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until very smooth. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls, swirl in a dollop of sour cream and garnish with some sprigs of fresh dill and crumbled bacon.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Royal Quinoa with Cucumber & Sesame Vinaigrette

High in protein, low in fat and full of vitamins and minerals, Quinoa is easy to cook and tastes great, especially when combined with a colourful and crunchy selection of diced cucumber, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, fresh mint and some surprising Japanese-inspired flavours: pickled ginger and Wafu Light Sesame Vinaigrette. A smooth and creamy sesame dressing, Wafu Light has 43% less fat than Wafu's Original Sesame dressing, at just 40 calories per tablespoon, contains no colours or artificial flavours, is cholesterol-free, is low in sodium and is also peanut-free. More importantly — it's delicious!

Royal Quinoa with Pickled Ginger, Cucumber & Dried Cranberries
Serves 6

1 cup red and white quinoa
1/2 english cucumber, finely diced
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pickled ginger, diced
1/8 cup pickled ginger juice
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup Wafu Sesame Japanese vinaigrette

Add the quinoa and 2 1/2 cups of water to a pot. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. The water will evaporate, much like rice. Let the quinoa cool for 10-15 minutes before scooping into a large bowl. Add the pickled ginger and juice and toss well. Then add the cucumber, almonds, dried cranberries and fresh mint, stirring until well combined. Finally, mix in the Wafu sesame vinaigrette and toss until combined. Adjust seasoning to taste and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Serve chilled or at room temperature.