Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tagliatelle with Rustic Genoese-Style Pesto

A marvel of simplicity, pesto is a celebrated treasure of Mediterranean cuisine. With a lush landscape on the Mediterranean coast in Northwest Italy, Liguria has a unique microclimate that produces all of the ingredients used to make their traditional pesto — Genovese basil, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil and even pine nuts from the stone pines that grow in abundance. Served with either Trenette, a long, thin, flat pasta similar to tagliatelle, or fresh Trofie, a short, squiggly noodle, Ligurians are very proud of their pesto and fiercely defend their traditional recipe. The term 'pesto' derives from the Italian verb 'pestare', which means 'to crush or pound', because for a true Ligurian pesto, the ingredients must be crushed using a wooden pestle and marble mortar. First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then the basil leaves are added with coarse salt and ground to a creamy consistency. Only then is a mix of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino added with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Another technique popular among purists to create the perfect rustic pesto, is by chopping all the ingredients by hand, preferably with a sharp mezzaluna or large knife, which results in a coarsely textured, wonderfully fragrant and richly flavoured pesto. A fragrant, green treasure, any pesto made with love is a culinary superstar.

We served the Tagliatelle with a delicious Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Le Marche

Tagliatelle alla Pesto Genovese
Serves 4

3 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed 
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp Maldon salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1cup grated pecorino, plus more for garnish 
1 lb quality dried tagliatelle pasta

Place the garlic and a pinch of salt on a cutting board. With a sharp chef's knife, chop it as finely as possible, then scrape into a bowl. Then finely chop the pine nuts and add to the garlic. Roll the basil leaves into a tight ball and chop coarsely, then add to the bowl followed by the grated cheese and olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, mix together into a paste and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then add the tagliatelle and stirring occasionally, cook until al dente. Drain, reserving about ½ cup pasta cooking liquid, and add the hot pasta to the large serving bowl with the pesto, and toss thoroughly to combine. If pasta seems dry, add a splash of pasta cooking liquid to moisten. Taste and season with more salt as desired, and serve the pasta with extra grated cheese on the side.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Steak Fiorentina with Cannellini Beans & Chanterelles

One of the simplest and most succulent dishes of Florence is the renowned Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a thick T-bone steak of the highest quality traditionally sourced from either the Chianina or Maremmana breeds of cattle. Thickly cut and very large, Bistecca alla Fiorentina are often shared between two or more people, and traditionally served very rare, sometimes garnished with lemon wedges, and accompanied with Tuscan white beans as a side dish — and of course an excellent bottle of red wine such as a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Weighing in at over one kilogram, the steak is cooked simply over a wood or charcoal fire to showcase the quality of the beef. Seasoned with sea salt and top quality olive oil after the meat has been removed from the heat and rested briefly, I find that brushing the steak with rosemary also imparts an herbal fragrance to this traditional Tuscan dish that served with sautéed chanterelles and lovely nutty lamb's lettuce salad, is nothing short of exceptional.

Cannellini beans with olive oil and pepper

Valeriana or Lamb's Lettuce Salad

Fresh local Umbrian chanterelles sautéed with olive oil and fresh thyme

Served with sliced Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the chanterelles were a lovely decadent side dish

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Serves 4

2 1⁄2" thick bone-in Bistecca alla Fiorentina, about 3 1⁄2 to 4 lb
1⁄4 cup top quality olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs of rosemary
Lemon wedges, for serving

Brush the steaks with half the oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat an outdoor charcoal or wood grill to high, banking the coals to one side once they are hot and covered in part with white ash. Place the steak on a rack about 3 inches above the coals and grill on the hottest part of the coals, flipping once, until browned, about 4-6 minutes for rare. Let the steak rest 5 minutes, then using a sharp knife, remove the meat on either side of the bone in one piece and cut each piece into thick slices. To serve, divide the slices among four serving plates and drizzle with top quality olive oil and a flurry of Maldon salt.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Richard's Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Curry

An autumn favourite, butternut squash shines brightest when used as a base for this smooth and creamy soup, infused with a pinch of curry powder and grated ginger, and brings out the flavour of this luscious soul-satisfying soup. Having just purchased two enormous butternut squash, our friend Richard made his delicious Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, elegantly garnished with a drizzle of cream, some herbed croutons and a flurry of fresh black pepper. Beautiful. 

Richard's Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Curry & Ginger 
Serves 4

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cups peeled, seeded and diced butternut squash 
2 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tsp dry mustard
5 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp 15% or 35% heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Croutons, for garnish

In a large pot over medium heat, soften the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil. Add the squash, curry powder and mustard. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the squash is tender. In a blender, purée the soup until smooth then return to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Pour the soup into bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of cream, some herbed croutons and a little black pepper.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Los Lobos: Modern Mexican Cuisine in London

Los Lobos, which fittingly means 'the wolves' in Spanish, features everything foodies have come to expect from the rock n' roll loving restaurateurs: vibrant décor, hip music, stellar cocktails and authentic food that looks as good as it tastes. "It's about the whole package", says Justin Wolfe. "We pay a lot of attention to the atmosphere because that's the first thing people see when you walk in. People start having conversations right off the bat. And if your service, food and cocktails deliver, you have that winning combination." And it's a formula that has gained the Wolfe brothers more than just a taste of success. It's the third restaurant Gregg and Justin Wolfe have opened in the last five years, with the Wolfe of Wortley recently named to Air Canada’s 2017 list of the top 30 best new restaurants in the country. London natives, Justin toured the world as the singer for a heavy-metal band, Thine Eyes Bleed, before becoming a chef, and Gregg spent time in Toronto managing bands and booking acts for a Queen Street bar, before opening their first restaurant in 2009, these indie operators are now building a food empire one epic restaurant at time.

Offering a unique menu of modern Mexican-inspired cuisine and craftsman cocktails, Los Lobos tacos are rooted in tradition but topped with creative combinations of salsa, aioli, pickled vegetables and hot sauces, such as the savoury pork belly taco finished with lime sour cream, radish and jalapeño; crunchy battered cod taco with chipotle aioli, cabbage, pickled red onion and cilantro; and pork carnita taco with pineapple pico, cilantro, sour cream and chicharron. Priced at just $5 each, we sampled five of the ten tacos featured on the menu, beginning with killer Cucumber-Cilantro Margaritas and an array of platos pequeno, or small plates, including traditional Guacamole served with chef Kyle Rose's homemade tortilla chips, luscious and cheesy Queso Fundido with chorizo, grilled corn Esquites with chile spice, mayonnaise and lime, and Bay Scallop Ceviche with pickled red onion, radish, cilantro, lime and habanero. Everything the Wolfe's create is highly visual. Their meals are colourful, delicious and beautifully plated. The decor is vibrant, unique and instagram-worthy. Its no wonder that in an era of smart phones and social media hashtags the buzz surrounding the 'Wolfe Pack' restaurant empire keeps building. They credit much of their success to word of mouth marketing. Arriving for lunch at Los Lobos while visiting friends in London this past weekend, we had a fabulous time and can't wait to return over and over again.

Arriving at Los Lobos for the Wolfe brothers modern Mexican menu of tacos and killer margaritas

The funky interior with a gothic Dia de Muertos — Day of the Dead — theme was designed by Stu Andrenelli, an old friend of the brothers and an Argentinian who runs an arts co-op in Toronto

Everything the Wolfe's create is highly visual, unique and instagram-worthy

Decorative hanging Edison bulb lighting at Los Lobos

Los Lobos menu of Modern Mexican dishes

Cucumber and Cilantro Margarita

Traditional guacamole served with tortilla chips

Queso Fundido with Chorizo

Esquites: Grilled Corn with chile spice, mayonnaise and lime

Bay Scallop Ceviche with pickled red onion, radish, cilantro, lime and habanero

Pork Carnita Taco with pineapple pico, cilantro, sour cream and chicarron

Battered Cod Taco with chipotle aioli, cabbage, pickled red onion and cilantro

Cauliflower Taco with queso, onion, tomato and scallions

Bay Scallop Taco with green salsa, pickled cabbage, corn and cilantro 

Pork Belly Taco with lime sour cream, radish and jalapeño

Holiday Spirits
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Gregg Wolfe

3 oz Tanqueray Gin
3 oz Sloe Gin
2 oz Grand Marnier
2 oz Aperol 
12 dashes Angostura bitters
1 orange, peeled fror garnish

Stir on ice, strain and pour into 4 Old Fashioned glasses with a large ice cube in each glass. Cut 4 pieces of orange peel, light a match and fold the peels in half, spraying the orange oil over the flame — the oil will ignite and fall over the cocktail.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cory's Baked Eggs with Spinach & Prosciutto

Baking eggs in individual ramekins with a little butter and cream is a classic French dish, and it’s easy to see the allure. First of all, the variations are endless, offering opportunities for almost any seasonal vegetable to shine. And most appealing, these single-serving entrées are ideal as an elegant weekend brunch with friends. Farm fresh eggs baked in a nest of spinach, finely sliced prosciutto and cream, our culinary kindred spirits Cory and Richard created this heavenly baked egg brunch with grilled striploin and arugula-parmigiana salad, served with slices of toasted baguette perfect for dipping into the divine buttery soft yolks.

Cory's Baked Eggs with Spinach and Prosciutto read to go into the oven

Baked for a little more than 15 minutes, the whites were set and yolk still lovely and runny

Cory's Baked Eggs with Spinach and Prosciutto
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Breakfast Comforts

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 lb spinach, rinsed but not dried
1 tsp olive oil
3 oz prosciutto, chopped
3/4 cup plus 4 tsp heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
4 large eggs
4 tsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter four 3/4-cup / 6-fl-oz ramekins. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the spinach a handful at a time, cooking until the first batch wilts before adding more. Cook all of the spinach until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the spinach in a fine-mesh sieve, pressing gently to remove the excess liquid. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop.

In the same saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat softens, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and the 3/4 cup cream and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until the cream has thickened and reduced to a few tablespoons, about 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Divide the spinach mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins, then crack an egg into each one. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle the top of each egg with 1 teaspoon of the cream. Carefully arrange the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake, watching the eggs carefully to avoid overcooking, until the whites are opaque and the yolks have firm edges and are soft in the centre, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of the cheese and serve immediately. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Langdon Hall: A Weekend Autumn Lunch

Originally built as a Federal Revival mansion by the famous New York Astor family at the turn of the 20th-century, Langdon Hall is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season. Owned and operated by Bill Bennett and Mary Beaton, the architect and interior designer couple purchased the Langdon Hall property with their inspiring dream to create a country house hotel. Two years later the doors opened and an amazing journey began. Considered to be one of the top hotels in Canada, I've been escaping to Langdon Hall since the 1990's and have spent many memorable weekends there, blissfully enjoying their spectacular spa, playing croquet on the crisp manicured lawns, relaxing in the tranquil secluded outdoor pool, exploring the impressive chef's kitchen garden, and of course indulging in Langdon Hall's exceptional cuisine by the superbly talented Jason Bangerter — one of my favourite chefs in Canada. In addition to Langdon Hall's main dining room, one can also dine at Wilks' Bar. Offering lighter lunches and dinners in a cozy club-like atmosphere, the bar has a welcoming wood burning fireplace, a collection of comfortable leather chairs and period photos of Langdon Hall’s original founding family. Elegant and refined, taking the time for a leisurely weekend lunch at Wilks' is one of life's more delicious pleasures.  

30 years ago this month Bill Bennett and Mary Beaton purchased the Langdon Hall property 
with their inspiring dream to create a country house hotel

Langdon Hall owners Mary Beaton and Bill Bennett's gorgeous dog Phoebe

Wilks' Bar Autumn menu

Planted flowers on the table

Wilkes’ Burger with black pepper bacon compote, smoked Majestic Henry cheese, garden pickles, frites and house made mayonnaise

Fish and Chips with Pommes Pont Neuf, Lemon Aioli and Pea Vines

Acorn Squash Soup
Serves 12
Recipe courtesy of Chef Jason Bangerter, Langdon Hall

"On chilly nights, I like to serve this soup with a garnish of braised meats — duck, rabbit or pork confit — with seared nuggets of foie gras, stewed chestnuts and brioche seasoned with winter spice. At home, I simply add a dollop of vanilla yogurt, pomegranate seeds and rustic baked black pepper croutons". JB

2 acorn squash
1/4 cup maple syrup
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 onion
1 carrot
6 cloves of garlic
1 half rib of celery
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 cup dry white wine
12 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 half stick of cinnamon
6 sprigs each fresh thyme and parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Vanilla yogurt
pomegranate seeds
rustic baked croutons

Split the squash and remove the seeds. Drizzle with half of the maple syrup, a splash of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut side down in a roasting pan in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes, or until lightly caramelized and fork tender. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the cooked flesh and reserve.

Slice the onion, carrot, garlic and celery. In a medium stockpot, sweat the vegetables in butter and ginger until soft. Add the cooked squash and wine, and cook until the wine is reduced by two-thirds. Add the stock to an inch above the vegetables and add half a cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Tie the herbs in a tight bundle with string, add to the pot and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the herb bundle and cinnamon, then purée the soup in batches in food processor until smooth and velvety, adding the remaining syrup and more stock if necessary. Strain and season with salt and pepper to taste. 
To serve, ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls and garnish with a dollop of vanilla yogurt, pomegranate seeds and some rustic baked black pepper croutons.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bosk: Globally-Inspired Regional Canadian Cuisine

Bosk, the signature restaurant at Toronto's Shangri-La Hotel, takes its name from the French word bosquet: a small wooded area that can lend refreshing reprieve from the elements. The restaurant design draws on a neutral palette of cream travertine, bronze screens and warm oak wood detailing to create an elegant and timeless space, complemented by tones of deep purples in the furniture, with a sea of hand-blown glass pendant lights in varying shades of green and amber, and commissioned large-scale photographs of local forest areas to bring the interior to life. Chef Marcus Routbard's menu hasn’t ventured far from nature either. Originally from Canada, Routbard sharpened his knives working all over the world including Dubai, Osaka and Beijing before moving to Toronto and focusing on contemporary Canadian cuisine. 

Arriving for the pre-theatre dinner menu prior to going to the opera, we made a calculated detour to Bosk's Bar, which celebrates classic cocktails from the 1930s. My favourite is their French 75, or Soixante Quinze, which was reputed to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun. In fact, it's a light and delicious tart lemon Champagne cocktail best served in a chilled flute with a garnish of citrus peel. With our table ready, we were escorted into the dining room and presented with Chef Routbard's Autumn pre-theatre menu of seasonal dishes rooted in nature. Starting with the Confit of Fingerling Potato and Truffle with sherry nage, and Warm Celeriac Soup, we followed with entrées of Organic Roasted Chicken with parsnips, lavender, fennel and truffle jus, and Baked Garganelli with black truffle, forest mushrooms, spinach and topped with a confit hen egg. Having recently returned from a month in Italy, we realize that we developed a jaded palate. It may be a while until we can order pasta and truffles and not be disappointed. Our next stop, The Elixir of Love at the COC, a Cinderella story with a twist as a poor and uneducated young man dreams of winning the heart of a rich, clever and beautiful woman. The love potion of the title unlocks the secret desires of all the main characters, and also serves as a vivid reminder that the placebo effect is nothing new.

The bartender at Bosk makes the best French 75 in the city

Made with gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar, 
the cocktail was named after a French 75mm field gun because it has such a kick

A classic Vodka Martini with one olive

A constellation of almost 200 Bocci lights hang spectacularly above the bar

The modern dining room and wine wall at Bosk

With elegant table settings, Bosk is one of the lovelier restaurants with a convenient pre-theatre menu for those going across Avenue Road to the COC

A perfect plump orchid 

The short seasonally changing pre-theatre menu offers a choice of 3 starters, 
3 entrées and 3 desserts

Fresh, crusty and intensely flavoured artisanal bread from Fred's Breads

Loimer Langenlois Grüner Veltliner available by the glass

With hints of pear, this gorgeous wine is refreshing and clean-cut 

Confit of Fingerling Potato and Truffle with sherry nage

Warm Celeriac Soup with walnuts, finely diced granny smith apple and celery

Organic Roasted Chicken with parsnips, lavender, fennel and truffle jus

Garganelli with black truffle, forest mushrooms, spinach and topped with confit hen egg