I’m a believer in giving credit where credit is due. While I haven’t eaten at every sushi restaurant in Toronto, I’ve had a pretty good sampling. A friend recommended Sushi & BBQ on Yonge (570 Yonge Street. Yonge & Wellesley), so I thought I would pass on the tip. It’s just a tiny place, but it’s amazingly good, reasonably priced, and the service is great. The salmon sushi was so fresh it pretty much melted in your mouth and the portions were huge. They had a nice selection of bento boxes, too. I had a bento box with salmon teriyaki and tempura, which I highly recommend! My date and I also shared a spicy tuna roll, and it was great too. To top it all off, the staff is extremely friendly, but not in that trying to be your friend kind of way, which is perfect. If you’re downtown and you like sushi, try Sushi & BBQ on Yonge. You won’t be disappointed!
Bakin’ Bacon November 10, 2008
I love crispy bacon, but I’m always disappointed when I pan-fry it forever and it still turns out soggy and oily. If you’re having the same problem, try baking your bacon. It basically eliminates the whole draining the fat off the bacon thing, which I always find hard.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place a wire baking rack on a cookie sheet and lay strips of bacon on the rack. The strips can overlap a bit on the edges. Put the rack and baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes without turning, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.
It may take two or three rounds to bake a whole pack of bacon, so this method is best done in advance. I like to bake a whole package then chop some up to eat with perogies, and refrigerate some strips for a breakfast sandwich or BLT the next day. You can heat the bacon up for a few seconds in the microwave or a few minutes in the toaster oven. Yum!
Butternut Squash Risotto October 18, 2008
A few weeks ago I went to an amazing cooking demonstration at the LCBO where the sous chef from Mistura (Massimo Capra’s restaurant in Toronto) was cooking with vermouth. I like vermouth in Negronis, but had never thought of cooking with it…genius! Apparently you can use it anywhere you use wine. As I see it, vermouth has a few advantages over wine. First, it’s cheaper, and second, it keeps almost forever (unlike wine, which has to be used fairly soon after opening it). Another reason (that the chef pointed out) is the complex flavour it gives dishes: vermouth is made from a blend of herbs, so it makes seasoning easier.
I decided to try out the vermouth idea last night, and I’m glad I did. The result was a rich butternut squash risotto…my kind of comfort food. Risotto demands a lot of attention. It’s not something you can just let cook and go watch tv. The key to getting a creamy (not clumpy, not crunchy) risotto is in adding the warm stock to the rice very gradually. I like to use a soup ladle and add one ladle-full at a time, waiting for it to be completely absorbed by the rice, then adding another ladle-full, and so on.
To make two huge heaping plates with a bit leftover, you will need:
1 medium sized butternut squash
1 teaspoon of butter or margarine, or cooking spray
1 1/2 cups of arborio or carnaroli rice
4 tablespoons of butter
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 to 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup of red vermouth (Martini Rosso)
2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the overn to 350°F. Wash the squash and cut it in half with a large, sharp knife so you have two symmetrical halves. Grease a baking sheet (with the butter, margarine, or cooking spray) and place the squash on it cut-side down. Bake for 50-60 minutes.
When the squash has been cooking for about 40 minutes, begin warming the chicken stock in a sauce pan over medium heat. In a medium to large heavy frying pan, melt 3 of the tablespoons of butter. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to let it brown.
Add the rice to the pan and stir, then let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vermouth and a ladle-full of the warm chicken stock. Stir the rice mixture and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue stirring and simmering (uncovered). Once all of the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle-full.
When the squash has been cooking for 50 minutes, check that it is done by poking through the skin at the stem with a fork. If it feel tender, remove one half from the oven, and leave the other to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Peel and cube the first squash half, and add it to the rice in the pan. Continue adding stock and letting it evaporate one ladle-full at a time.
Remove the other squash half from the oven and peel it. Mash this half and add it to the pan. When you’ve only got a ladle-full of stock or less left in the pot, taste the risotto to see if it is still crunchy. At this point it should be just slightly chewy (al dente) but not crunchy. If you’re happy with the texture, add the remaining tablespoon of butter as well as the parmesan cheese. If you want the rice to be softer, add the rest of the stock and let it absorb before adding the parmesan and butter. Buon appetito!
Spaghetti Squash with Garlic and Butter September 18, 2008
I was so excited to see the huge pile of beautiful Ontario squash at my local grocery store last week. Like Ontario corn, squash makes me feel better about the end of summer. When choosing a squash, look for one that is heavy for its size and has no serious marks or gouges in the skin. Try pressing your fingernail into the skin. If it’s fairly hard, it’s ready. If you can mark it easily, try to find a firmer one. You can store the squash out of the fridge for a few weeks.
Spaghetti squash is easy to prepare and delicious. This is just one of the many ways you can enjoy it.
1 spaghetti squash
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of butter (or margarine)
cooking spray (Pam?)
salt & pepper to taste
First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F (I made my squash in a big toaster oven). Cut the squash in half the long way using the biggest, sharpest knife you have. Take the loose papery skin off of the garlic but don’t peel it. Spray a baking sheet with the cooking spray (you could also grease it with margarine or butter). Place the squash halves cut-side down on the pan and slip two cloves of garlic under each squash half. Bake the squash-garlic combo for about an hour, until you can pierce the skin easily with a fork.
When the squash is cooked, flip it onto its shell and butter each half. Then squeeze the roasted garlic out of its peel and mash it slightly with a fork. Spread the garlic onto both squash halves, then salt and pepper them lightly. Using a fork, fluff the squash so the spaghetti strands come apart. Taste and add more salt/pepper/butter as desired. You can serve it right in the squash halves for a cute fall dish.
Beginner Pie Crust August 31, 2008
You’ve probably heard how impossible pie crusts can be, or at least how easy it is to mess them up. I want to dispel these myths (or at least half-truths). You CAN make pie crust as long as you have a small amount of patience and a little bit of extra time. I think the results are worth it, and much better than pre-made pie crusts.
This is the first pie crust recipe I tried, and it worked so I’m sticking with it. A lot of people shun shortening, preferring the more classic butter pâte brisée. I started out with this recipe because I wanted something dairy-free. I also think the shortening is more forgiving than the butter, which is important if this is your first pie crust.
I’ve tried this recipe with regular and with golden shortening, and find that the golden shortening gives the crust a nicer flavour and colour. Keep your shortening in the fridge for best results. If you’re making a pie like apple or pumpkin you could also add some cinnamon and sugar to the flour mix for extra flavour.
For a single pie crust, you need:
1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of cold shortening
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of ice cold water (and possibly a bit extra)
Put the flour in a medium bowl along with the salt and stir. Cut off what you need from the brick of shortening and cut that into a couple of thick slices. Drop the shortening into the bowl with the flour.
I did some serious research before I tried to make my first pie, and learned that a pie crust is very different from other baked goods (cakes, muffins, cookies, etc.). When you make a pie crust, your goal is not to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Think of it more as coating all of the fat in flour. This also explains why it’s important to keep your shortening and water cold: If the shortening warms up too much it will become soft and liquidy and will mix too much with the flour (don’t panic, this has never actually happened to me, just explaining the “science” behind all this madness).
I like to keep things low-tech in the kitchen. Sure you can make this with a stand mixer or whatever, but who’s got one of those? Not me. If you don’t either, take one knife in each hand (just the normal ones you would use for dinner) and cut across the mixture in opposite directions at the same time, rotating the bowl and stirring so you cut up all the big lumps of shortening with your knife (cutting in the shortening). Keep going until the shortening chunks are about the size of a pea. When you bake the dough, these little pea-sized bits of shortening will melt, creating the flaky texture you’re aiming for.
The next step is to add the water. I always find I need more water than the recipe calls for, so use your judgment. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, stirring with the knives and trying to limit touching the dough with your hands (because of the whole warming up the shortening thing). When you have added 3 tablespoons of water, see if the dough is moist enough by squeezing it with your hand. If it holds together decently it’s probably ready. If not, add more water half a tablespoon at a time. It doesn’t have to be doughy, but just has to hold its shape a bit.
When you can form it into some sort of ball, do so. Don’t worry if there are a few little dry crumbly bits as long as most of it will hold its shape. Place a piece of plastic wrap on your counter and put the dough ball on it. Flatten the dough ball into a disc, wrap it up and place it in the fridge. It needs to sit for at least an hour to relax, which helps to make the crust more tender and flaky.
After the dough has rested for a while, unwrap it and place it on a well-floured surface. Roll out the dough with a well-floured rolling pin until it is about 1/4″ thick and about 2″ wider all around than your pie pan.
Here are two good ways to get your dough into the pie pan once it is rolled out:
1) (My favourite) Put one of those really thin and cheap bendy plastic cutting boards on your counter, sprinkle it generously (this is super important!) with flour and put a little extra on the counter in case the dough extends beyond the plastic sheet. Roll out the dough on top of the plastic sheet.
Lift up the plastic sheet and quickly flip it over onto the pie pan, then peel off the plastic sheet. Press the dough down into the pan. Easy, n’est-ce pas?
2) If you don’t have a cheap plastic cutting board but you do have a rolling pin, try this: Starting at one end of the dough circle, roll the dough around the pin, lift, place over pan and unroll. Also fairly easy.
After you’ve pressed the dough down into the pan, tear off the extra dough so there is about an inch of dough to roll into a lip. Roll it up and press little divots into it with your finger. Don’t worry about making it perfect, it will look rustic and charming. If you have extra dough left over you can lay it on a cookie sheet and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 10-12 minutes on 350F.
Some final notes: If the crust gets torn in the whole transferring to the pan process, just patch it up with some of the extra stuff torn off of the edges. The dough shouldn’t be sticky at all. If it is, sprinkle flour over it as you roll it out. Even if you think you’ve completely ruined it and are about to despair, don’t. Just add more water if it’s too dry or add more flour if it’s sticky and you’ll be fine. Hopefully everything worked out and your crust is flaky and delicious. As a friend of mine once said, “Now you can be known as a pie person!”
Easy Marinated Steak August 22, 2008
I don’t know if it’s obvious, but I’ve gone barbecue crazy this summer. Most of my grocery shopping revolves around grill-able things. Here’s something else you can try if you’re tired of burgers and hot dogs. I marinated my steaks overnight, so although it’s easy, it does take some planning ahead.
Grilling or marinating beef steak (I used sirloin)
A big container of some sort for marinating
Italian salad dressing (enough to cover the steaks)
First, get the steaks marinating. Pour a little salad dressing in the bottom of the container, drop the steaks in and let them sit overnight in the fridge. Turn them over once or twice if you can.
The next day, heat up your grill to a high temperature and drop the steak onto the grill, searing both sides over the high heat for about 1 minute on each side, then turn the heat down to medium and continue grilling (this is a tip from Cumbrae’s, the amazing butcher down the street from me).
Admittedly I’m not much of a griller, so if you’re not either you can read up on cooking times and steak cuts.
When you think the steak is done to your liking, remove it from the grill and let it rest on a plate before serving so the juices won’t all run out when you cut it.
Bonus: If, like me, you happened to make way too much steak, try this idea for leftovers: Place the steak on a piece of aluminum foil and add a little bit more italian dressing on top. Wrap it up well in the foil and place it in a preheated toaster oven or oven for about 20 minutes at 300F. Serve with eggs any style and some toast for a hearty, greasy-spoon style breakfast.
This is a recipe straight from Italy that I learned while living in Milan last summer. The original recipe uses orecchiette, a kind of pasta that gets its name from its shape, like “little ears”. Tonight, though, I was craving gnocchi, so I tried that instead and it was almost as good. These two kinds of pasta work well because they go nicely with the mushy consistency of the sauce.
The picture shows the dish made with bacon, but I’ve also made it with thickly cut and cubed maple turkey breast (ask for about 3-1cm thick slices at the deli), pancetta, or no meat at all. All are excellent, depending on your tastes.
A bunch of broccoli (2 crowns)
1 kg of gnocchi or 500g of orecchiette
1/2 to 3/4 of a pack of bacon (or the turkey, or 10 or so slices of pancetta, or nothing)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
a pinch of chili flakes or powder (optional)
salt and pepper
If you’re using bacon, I suggest baking it. Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a wire rack on it. Lay the strips of bacon on the rack, trying not to overlap. Bake for about 20 minutes, then break into pieces once it’s crispy. If you’re using pancetta or turkey breast, pan-fry it to brown it.
While the bacon is cooking, cut up the broccoli (big pieces are alright). Bring a large pot of water to a boil (use a lot of water as it will be boiling for a long time). Boil the broccoli until it is very soft and falling apart, then salt the water lightly and add the pasta to the same pot. Gnocchi takes less time than orecchiette, so if you are using orecchiette you can add it a bit earlier in the cooking process but the broccoli should be very soft first.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain the whole works (broccoli and all). Put the broccoli and pasta back in the pot and stir in the olive oil, bacon and chili flakes (or powder). Add as much salt and pepper as you like. Buon appetito!