Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Chicken Pot Pie with Leeks, Carrots, Celery & Peas

A delicious way to use up leftover roast chicken is to make a warm and comforting Chicken Pot Pie. Taking advantage of store bought puff pastry makes the process even easier. The filling can be prepared in advance with any vegetables you have on hand, but I like to use carrots, celery and a handful of green peas and sliced leeks sautéed in butter until tender. A rich thick creamy sauce brings the whole dish together, so it's important to taste for seasoning as you go along, adjusting the flavour to suit your palate. The final flourish is laying a rolled out sheet of puff pastry on top of the serving dish and brushing it with an egg wash, using any extra pastry to decorate the top. Baked for 30-40 minutes at 400°F and voilà - a bubbling homemade chicken pot pie capped with a handsome crown of golden puff pastry.

Roast chicken with carrots, leeks, celery and peas in a thick sauce made of 
chicken stock and a roux

The mixture is poured into an ovenproof decorative dish 

One sheet of thawed puff pastry is rolled out and laid on top of the dish, crimping the edges, decorating the top and brushing the surface with an egg and cream wash

Baked at 400°F for 30-40 minutes until t's bubbling and the surface is golden brown

Chicken Pot Pie
Serves 8

2 lb cooked chicken

1 tsp salt
2 cups finely sliced carrots
1 1/2 cups finely sliced celery
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 leek, washed and finely sliced, white part only
4 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp white or black pepper and kosher salt
1 pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg
2 tbsp whole milk

Remove the skin from the chicken and separate the meat from the bones and tear into bite-size pieces then place in a large bowl along with the frozen peas and finely chopped celery. Place the carrots in a small pot of boiling water and cook over medium-high heat, covered for 3 minutes. Drain the carrots and add to the chicken. Place half the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and cook the leeks until soft, about 5-6 minutes, than add to the chicken mixture.

In a saucepan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat, and cook the flour and pepper, stirring, for one minute. Gradually whisk in the chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook stirring often, until smooth and thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour over the chicken mixture, season with salt and pepper, then allow to cool for 30 minutes. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half of puff pastry about 2 inches larger than the top of the dish. Place over the dish and trim to leave 1/2-inch overhang, reserving the excess pastry. Press the overhang onto and over the edge of the dish. With a fork, whisk the egg with the milk, then brush over the pastry. Use the excess pastry to cut out shapes and place on top if desired, and brush the egg mixture over the pastry details, and cut 4 to 6 steam vents. Bake at 400°F until the filling is bubbly and the pastry is golden, about 30-40 minutes. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Beef, Barley & Shiitake Mushroom Soup

A hearty and satisfying winter meal, Beef, Barley and Shiitake Mushroom Soup is a perfect dish for the coldest of days. I love making this recipe when I have leftover Roast Beef or Braised Oxtail, so I can make excellent use of the tender morsels of beef. Simply sauté leeks, carrots and celery until soft, then add garlic, a little tomato paste, fresh shiitake mushrooms, pearl barley, fresh herbs, good beef stock and a lashing of good red wine. An hour simmering on the stove, and you have a richly aromatic and soul satisfying winter soup.

Beef, Barley & Shiitake Mushroom Soup with Red Wine
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp canola oil
3/4 lb leftover roast beef, cut into soup size pieces
2 leeks, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/3 pound shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup red wine
8 cups beef broth
1 cup pearl barley
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, sauté the leeks in 2 tablespoons of oil and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the wine or port and simmer for a minute or so, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. 

Add the leftover meat to the pot, then add the broth, barley, mushrooms, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for an hour, until the beef and barley are both tender. 

Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, and skim off any fat from the surface of the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls, garnish with a sprig of thyme and serve immediately with some hot crusty bread.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Griffin Gastropub in Downtown Bracebridge

Up a small cobblestone lane off Bracebridge's Main Street in the heart of Muskoka, is the quaint ivy-covered Griffin Gastropub, run by owners Jed Corbeil and Curt Dunlop, which the duo opened in 2008. Known for offering a great selection of craft beers from small Ontario  craft breweries, The Griffin also has a small but excellent menu and musical events year round. Once a lawyer’s office, the building that houses The Griffin was built in 1920 and was converted into a pub in 1997. After changing ownership a couple times, the pub was purchased in 2008 by childhood friends Dunlop and Corbeil who were looking for a change in their careers. "We bought this out of the love of music and entertaining, not because of any expertise in the field," says Dunlop. Though they may not have had any formal experience running a pub, what they did know was how to entertain people, and both enjoyed inviting friends to their homes and providing great food and drinks. "It’s kind of an extension of that," Dunlop says. "We wanted to create a place where people can come and hang out. It’s a cozy and friendly atmosphere." And with Chef Erik Davies' delicious menu of homemade soups, fabulous salads, appetizers and sensational entrées made with local produce and lots of love, The Griffin is our favourite place to stop for lunch when we're on our way up to Muskoka — the ideal start to a cottage weekend, but judging by its popularity, it's not our little secret any longer.

Jordan Reid, the nicest Bar Manager in all of Muskoka

Hockley Valley Lager

Australian Merlot

Roasted Parsnip Soup

"Small Town" Country Ham with Colcannon Potatoes, Roasted Vegetables and Mustard Jus

Grilled Salmon Quesadillas with capers, dill, roasted peppers and Gruyere

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Leek and Potato Soup: The Ultimate Winter Warmer

A traditional Irish dish, Leek and Potato Soup is frugal, filling and full of flavour, and can also be made in little more than half an hour. The perfect antidote to the season's colder weather, this rich and satisfying soup is taken up a notch with two perfect partners: cream and dill. The leeks are simply sautéed in butter until soft, then combined with diced potatoes and chicken stock and simmered for half an hour. The soup is then puréed with dill until silky smooth, enriched with cream and seasoned with salt and white pepper. Hearty, warm and delicious, this simple soup is the ultimate winter warmer.

Leek and Potato Soup with Cream & Dill
Serves 8-10

8 tbsp butter
6 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only
6 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cream, optional
1/4 cup sour cream, for garnish

In a large pot, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently until softened, about 6-8 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. Add the cream and 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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cibo: Southern Italian Cuisine in Yorkville

Opened in October 2015 by Liberty Entertainment Group’s Nick Di Donato, Cibo is the sister restaurant to Yorkville's Ciao Wine Bar. With a sleek and modern interior and impressive floor to ceiling wine wall, the restaurant features butcher-block tables, plush leather chairs, and glass-enclosed wine room that holds more than 1,500 bottles. Executive chef Severio Macri’s handmade pastas are hung to dry on racks by the open kitchen where Cibo's pizza oven radiates a warm glow along the the impressive 40-foot long marble open kitchen counter crowned with a bank of light bulb marquee-style lettering announcing CIBO-CIBO-CIBO. The traditional Italian menu features an extensive list of of over 20 Antipasti, from Grilled Octopus, Pesce Crudo, and Arancini to Salumeria with Prosciutto di ParmaCapocollo, Salsiccia Calabrese and homemade Taralli, Insalate, Zuppe, Risotto, Pasta Fresca, Pizza and Calzone. There's also a 'Pranzo in Fretta' lunchtime menu for diners in a hurry and popular Lobster Tuesdays — $25 for a fresh, whole lobster prepared four ways. The fusilli with chicken and porcini mushrooms in a light cream sauce was sensational and the perfectly blistered pizzas that were presented to the table of ladies beside us looked and smelled wonderful. I will need to come back to explore more of chef Macri's excellent pastas or his wildly popular Pizza da Nicolino with tomato, fior di latte, arugula and prosciutto di parma — Mamma Mia!

Cibo's menu with traditional southern Italian dishes

Warm house-made rosemary and olive oil focaccia with black olives

Caesar Salad with bacon, croutons, shaved parmigiana-reggiano and fresh lemon

Organic Greens with cherry tomatoes, lemon and olive oil

Ricotta Ravioli with prosciutto, spinach and cherry tomatoes

Fusilli with chicken and porcini mushrooms in a light cream sauce

Pizza oven and open kitchen

Cibo Wine Bar Executive Chef Saver Macri

Orecchiette with Sausage and Rapini
Serves 2
Recipe by Chef Saverio Macri  

5 oz dried orecchiette pasta
1/2 bunch of rapini 
1 spicy Italian sausage with casing removed 
2 oz Fontina cheese
2 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
Parmesan and Fontina cheese

Put the pasta in a pot of boiling water for 10-12 minutes and the rapini for 5-7 minutes, until fork tender. In the meantime, add some olive oil to a sauté pan and and brown the sausage. Then add the garlic and let them brown together. To serve, toss in the cooked orecchiette and rapini, and finish it with shaved parmesan and fontina cheese.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Oven-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes in Duck Fat

Golden and crispy on the outside with creamy fluffy interiors, roasting potatoes in duck fat creates unmatched flavour and richness for the most sensationally scrumptious spud. With a distinct richness and aroma that gets absorbed very easily into the surface, duck fat has plenty of saturated fat and a high smoking point, which makes it an ideal medium for making the crispiest duck fat-roasted potatoes. Starchy russets produce the crispiest crust due to their high starch content, and Yukon Golds the creamiest interior, but long tapered fingerlings produce an elegant and absolutely delicious side dish without the parboiling which is often recommended for larger varieties. Simply warm the duck fat in a roasting pan until melted, tip in the potatoes, then spread them out cut side down and roast for about 40 minutes until they're lovely and golden brown. The potatoes can be turned over and roasted for another few minutes to warm the tops and then served immediately garnished with Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste. A few sprigs of fresh rosemary is also a nice touch.

Oven-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes in Duck Fat
Serves 4 (or 2 gluttons)

6 large fingerling potatoes, cut in half length-wise
2 tbsp duck fat
1 tsp maldon salt
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the duck fat in a deep baking pan and set in the oven until it melts, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully toss the potatoes in the duck fat to coat then arrange them cut side down in the pan. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are nicely golden brown on the cut side, then turn them over and roast for another 10-15 minutes. When done, serve garnished with Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh rosemary and serve immediately.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dinner at the Ritz: Pre-Theatre Menu & Two Chefs

Located at the Ritz Carlton in the heart of Toronto’s Theatre District and across the street from Roy Thomson Hall, Toca has reinvented itself recently with an Italian-inspired menu created by two-star Michelin guest chef Oliver Glowig, working closely with chef de cuisine Jilin Gaba and the culinary team at Toca. With the restaurants renowned Sunday Brunch, Chef's Tasting Menu and one of the largest private cheese caves in the country, Toca also serves a short but sensational pre-theatre menu every night with a tempting selection of two or three courses from which to choose, including antipasti, secondi and decadent dolce. Looking forward to meeting up with friends before going to see Dr. Kenny Broad, a diver and environmental anthropologist being featured at the amazing National Geographic Live! series at the RTH, the pre-theatre menu featured a choice of Butternut Squash Soup or Insalate "Toca" with radicchio, endive, arugula, mushroom, mixed nuts and blueberries to start, followed by handmade Tagliatelle with lamb meatballs and baby kale or Ontario Trout served with fork-mashed potato, green onion and yoghurt sauce. For those with a sweet tooth, there was the Ritz-Carlton Torta, their signature chocolate cake or Caramel Custard Budino with khalif and streusel. With a great menu of wines by the glass, gracious service, elegant dining room and superb location, Toca was a lovely beginning to our National Geographic 'night on the town'.

Toca menu offers seasonal, locally sourced Italian cuisine

Paladin Pinot Grigio

Amuse-Bouche of Tuna Tartare with Wasabi Mayonnaise

Insalata “Toca” with radicchio, endive, arugula, mushroom, mixed nuts and blueberries

Ontario trout with fork-mashed potato, grilled spring green onions and yoghurt sauce

Tagliatelle with lamb meatballs and baby kale

Chef Glowig's Ravioli 'Capresi' stuffed with caciotta cheese, marjoram and tomato sauce 
is the Island of Capri's signature dish

Two-star Michelin guest chef Oliver Glowig at the Toronto Ritz-Carlton

The Ravioli 'Capresi' made with caciotta cheese is made daily by Toca's culinary team

Using a circular ravioli cutter, the pasta is lovingly made by hand

Guest chef Oliver Glowig with Toca chef de cuisine Jilin Gaba 

"Smile" - you're on Scrumpdillyicious!

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton

3 large butternut squash
1 cup apple juice
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
Kosher Salt to taste

Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds, then place on a baking sheet pan skin side and bake at 350°F until soft, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, place all the remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer then turn the heat off. Once cool enough to handle, scoop the pulp out of the squash and add to the liquid in the pot. Stir well and bring back to a simmer then remove from the heat. In small batches add the soup to a blender and purée until smooth.

Serves 8-10
Recipe courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

3 1/2 lb cream cheese, room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
7 large eggs
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sour cream

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, flour and sugar in a standing mixer using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed. Add the butter in a steady stream until mixed evenly.

Line the inside ring of a 10” springform pan with a 5” strip of parchment paper, and press the graham cracker crust mix into the bottom of pan. Mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, heavy cream and vanillas together, then add to the cream cheese mixture, scraping the sides frequently. Add the sour cream and blend well until mix is smooth. 

Pour the cheesecake batter over the graham cracker crust and bake at 300°F in a water bath for 2 hours or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, let cool completely, then refrigerate. Once cold, remove the springform pan and serve.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tommy Bahama: Tropical Island Fare & Balmy Breezes

Located on St Armands Circle just steps to the sandy white beaches of Lido Key, Tommy Bahama is a celebration of the relaxed island living. Eclectic with a tropical twist, the restaurant is casual and inviting with an island-inspired menu featuring fresh seafood and "Floribbean" classics from Blackened Fish Tacos, Seared Scallop Sliders, Coconut Crusted Crab Cakes, sensational Ahi Poke Napoleon to their mouth-watering tropical cocktails such as the Key Lime Martini, Pineapple Zuzu Mojito, Bahia Sangria and Mai Tai each garnished with a fresh purple orchid. Legend has it that the founders sketched out the idea for Tommy Bahama on a cocktail napkin while sipping Pina Coladas on the beach, fashioning their philosophy of a relaxed and leisurely island lifestyle. True to their vision, the décor is warm and sophisticated - a fun 1940's faux-tropical island theme of leather wrapped bamboo furniture with cane and rattan finishes and wonderful tropical fabrics, complete with oversized wooden ceiling fans revolving gently overhead. Desserts at Tommy Bahama are equally beguiling such as their Triple Chocolate Cake and ever-popular Pina Colada Cake. Every time we visit Longboat Key, we sit back and enjoy the island lifestyle of Tommy Bahama on St Armands Circle, then stroll over to Lido Beach and bask in the balmy ocean breezes and warm Sarasota sun, to try to walk off some of the calories from lunch and that enormous slice of Key Lime Pie.

Fresh light green and hot pink Cymbidium orchids decorate each table

The Tommy Bahama menu with island-inspired dishes from the delicious Ahi Poke Napoleon, Guava-Glazed Baby Back Ribs, and Korean Steak with Ssamjang Dip

The Tommy Bahama Mai Tai made with Florde Caña 4 year-old Rum, Orgeat, Orange Curaçao, Lemon, Lime, Pineapple and Dark Rum Float

Stella Artois garnished with an orchid

French Point sourdough-style bread

Sweet nutmeg, cinnamon and honey butter

Crispy Beer Battered Fish with Honey Roasted Onions, Island Tartar and Fries

Cuban Sandwich with House Roasted Pork, Ham, Gruyère, Pickles, Sriracha Mustard 
and Jerk Yucca Fries

Ahi Poke Napoleon with diced tuna tossed with capers, soy sauce and a splash of sesame oil with 
Guacamole and Flatbread

Key Lime Pie with Graham Cracker Crust and Whipped Cream

Chef Shannon Mills

Flavours of Aloha: Cooking with Tommy Bahama

Ahi Poke Napoleon
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of chef Shannon Mills, Tommy Bahama - St Armands Circle

1/2 lb ahi tuna steak, cut into 1/4" x 1/4" cubes
8 tbsp baby microgreens, for garnish

Tuna Poke Dressing:
1/3 cup sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
3/4 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
3/4 tbsp chipotle pepper paste
1 lime, halved and juiced
1 tbsp shallot, minced
4 tsp cilantro, washed and finely chopped
4 tsp parsley, washed and finely chopped
4 tbsp capers

2 avocados, pitted, skinned and diced to 1/4"
1/2 cup yellow onions, finely diced
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 cup ripe tomato, diced small
2 limes, halved and juiced
1/4 cup cilantro, washed and chopped
1/2 cup green onions, bias cut in 1/4" pieces
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Whisk all of the tuna poke dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl then set aside, ensuring that it's stirred again before blending with the tuna.

Gently fold together the guacamole ingredients in a medium bowl then place in a storage container, placing a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the mixture so that no air gets in until it's ready to serve.

In a large mixing bowl, gently mix the tuna and 8-ounces of the dressing and toss well to coat. To build the Ahi Poke Napoleons, place a 2-inch ring mold on a serving plate and spoon in about 1 1/2 oz of the guacamole, followed by 1 1/2 oz of the tuna, then 1 1/2 oz more of the guacamole, finishing with 1 1/2 oz of the tuna. Gently remove the ring, and repeat with the other plates. Garnish with a few baby microgreens and crisp tortilla chips to taste.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Kona Coffee Rub
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Shannon Mills, Tommy Bahama - St Armands Circle

1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp finely ground Kona coffee
1 tbsp sweet paprika, preferably Spanish or Hungarian
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 1/2 lb skirt steaks, cut into serving pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk the rub ingredients together in a small bowl, and set aside. Lightly coat the steaks on both sides with the oil. Generously sprinkle the steaks all over with the rub and gently massage it in, then allow the steaks stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor grilled brush the grill grate clean. Cook the steaks over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, flipping the steaks halfway through cooking, until well browned, about 6 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to a carving board and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes. With the knife held on a slight diagonal, carve the steaks across the grain. Transfer the slices and juices to a platter and serve hot.