Monday, September 28, 2009

Cheese bourekas

Today is Yom Kippur, a day of fasting when Jews don’t eat or drink for 25 hours, from sundown to nightfall the next day.

Even Jewish people who aren’t observant for the rest of the year often fast on Yom Kippur as it’s seen as one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar. It’s mostly about asking forgiveness for the many ways in which we’ve wronged our fellow man, but it’s also a time of renewal, and return to God.

And it’s an especially challenging time to be a strict vegetarian, or so my best friend Natasha finds each year when she and her family generously host meals during the High Holidays.

“It is a challenge,” Tash concedes, “People expect brisket and chicken so you’ve got to come up with some pretty good vegetarian dishes to lure them to your house.” This year, that’s where Bonnie Stern came in handy.

My post-Whistler plan was to hang out in Vancouver for a few days, stay with Tash and help her make a delicious pre-fast meal for some non-vegetarian friends.

Before sundown we all found ourselves fueling up for prayer and fasting on quinoa-stuffed vegetables, rapini, green salad, an asparagus, shitake and goat cheese frittata, and our ace in the hole, Bonnie Stern’s easy cheese bourekas.

Have an easy fast. And a delicious New Year.



12 oz (375 g) quark, ricotta or solid curd cottage cheese

4 oz (125 g) cream cheese, softened

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

pinch of nutmeg

¾ lb (375 g) phyllo pastry (12 sheets)

½ cup (125 mL) dry breadcrumbs (panko)

1⁄3 cup (75 mL) melted butter (or more)

2 tbsp (25 mL) sesame seeds

1. Prepare filling by combining quark with softened cream cheese, eggs, sugar, salt and nutmeg.
2. Place phyllo on work surface in a stack. Cover with plastic wrap and then a damp tea towel. Have breadcrumbs, butter, sesame seeds and a pastry brush ready to use.
3. Arrange one sheet of phyllo on work surface. Brush with butter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Repeat with 2 more layers. Arrange ½ cup (125 mL) cheese down the length of one edge of the pastry leaving about ½-inch (1 cm) at each end. Loosely roll up lengthwise, tucking in ends. Press down to flatten top (it should be more of a strip than a tight roll). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush with butter. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Score the top of the pastry into about 10 pieces. Repeat to make 4 rolls.
4. Bake at 400F (200C) for 20 to 25 minutes until well browned. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 40 pieces

Friday, September 25, 2009

Public service announcement

I wouldn't normally bother informing the public about some random hotel rewards program, but this info is too good not to share.
Here's the deal: Express check-in and checkout. Complimentary daily in-room high-speed Internet service (worth the price alone). Complimentary local calls and no service charge on 1-800 numbers. Complimentary heath club access. Complimentary use of TaylorMade golf clubs at select properties. And more.
So what do you have to do for all of these tantalizing perks? Nothing at all, except for signing up for a Fairmont President's Club card, for free, right here.
I know what you're thinking: "If it's too good to be true it's probably not true." But to that I say, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
Also, I just put the card into action at the Fairmont Whistler, and it totally worked.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I love my job

This is an honest to goodness Nanaimo bar from Nanaimo, B.C., which I've learned from my amazingly fun and sunny and informative conference in Whistler that I definitely have to visit.
I'm going to eat it now. (The bar, not the harbour city.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Endless salad

I’m on a salad kick, and I don’t care who knows it. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just kind of happened one day when I brought home a big box of pre-washed spring mix salad greens and started eating.

But even after munching down a ton of it, a few days in I was all like, holly crap, the more I eat of this box of greens the more it seems to grow. It was like a fake-bottomed plastic container, or a clown car offering up endless salad. And my Jewish guilt wouldn’t allow me to let it go bad.

So I bought cucumbers and all manner of tomatoes. I peeled carrots and chopped up radishes and mushrooms. I bought gourmet croutons and nuts and sprouts and seeds and cheese. Cans of tuna and salmon, too. I boiled some eggs and even picked up some terrific Newman's Own dressing (may I suggest the Family Recipe Italian or the straightforward Caesar) to make the task less arduous when I didn’t feel like shaking up a lemon or balsamic vinaigrette.

I guess it was about a week ago when I suddenly realized that making these salads with the pre-washed lettuce and chunking up a bit of this and shaking on a bit of that, took about the same time it takes to make a bowl of cold cereal, and less time than a sandwich.

And that’s when I finally finished the box of pre-washed spring mix greens.

But then I went shopping again and discovered the San Marino mix, (which is full of baby arugula – score!) and the whole damn process started again.

But you know something? I feel great.

Salad: Try it again for the first time.

I’m off to Whistler tomorrow to attend the GoMedia conference, which is kind of like speed dating for travel writers, whereby an international group of scribes meet with Canadian tourism representatives to discuss story ideas – along with a little horseback riding, hiking, and fancy dinners thrown in for good measure. Then it’s on to Vancouver until the end of the month to catch up with friends, but I will be blogging if I eat anything especially delicious out west -- which you can pretty much bank on.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This just in: Trains, avocados and a TIFF of the toque to Vegas

Today, in the spirit of Mexican Independence Day and Canadian multiculturalism [and marketing savvy], 20,000 Mexican avocados will be handed out at Union Station starting at 6 a.m. while a live Mariachi band plays, festive Mexican dancers perform, chef Juan Salinas creates avocado recipes and the Mexican flag is raised, transforming a regular workday commute into a rush hour fiesta.

But it’s not all about guacamole and strolling musicians. Rated as the world’s most nutritious fruit in the Guinness Book of World Records (la-dee-da), avocados contain almost 20 essential nutrients such as folic acid, protein, iron, vitamin E, vitamin K and a variety of B vitamins. The also contain about 9 grams of fibre per avocado – more than any other fruit. They’re cholesterol free, a good source of lutein, which helps maintain healthy eyesight, they’re a source of potassium and are low in sodium.

Who knew taking the train could be so healthy?

In other news, it seems like Vegas chefs are taking over T.O. during TIFF. Chef Carlos Buscaglia from Las Vegas' Fiamma at the MGM Grand made the rounds as he "popped up" a restaurant with Chef Rob Gentile (ONE, Bymark) in his soon to open Buca, nestled along King Street West’s restaurant row. Penelope Cruz enjoyed Chef Buscaglia's signature gnocchi with lobster and white truffles. Two days later the chef was at it again, this time transforming Brassaii into Fiamma for the likes of George Clooney, Jason Reitman, Jason Bateman and Bill Murray, where they dined on braised Piedmontese style short ribs and truffled potatoes, heirloom tomato salad and a wild Ontario blackberry Neapolitan.

Meanwhile, John Schenk, Executive Chef at Strip House Las Vegas was in the kitchen at Jacobs and Co. for an evening, working his meaty magic on Ed Norton, Kerri Russell, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.

Not to be outdone, I was recently spotted at a TIFF party, chewing a piece of gum while standing near Naomi Watts, Jimmy Smits and Anthony LaPaglia, and a couple of days later, almost tripped into Colin Firth’s chest while he left a Yorkville sushi spot. So, I’m basically like a Vegas chef.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New-school tomatoes provencal

I’m a sucker for clamshell tomatoes on the vine. When you can’t get nice Ontario plum or field tomatoes or even snazzier heirlooms, I always say there’s nothing wrong with good old hydroponics. So I bought some. A new varietal to me, in fact. Seems like we’ve moved on from cherry and grape tomatoes, as these ones are called strawberry tomatoes.

They looked good but tasted only a little better than the plastic they came in, so I thought I’d roast them off to sweeten them up. And then I thought, why not go whole hog and make a side dish I could get excited about?

So I drizzled them with oil, mashed together some breadcrumbs with a clove of garlic, some fresh herbs, salt, chili flakes and a pinch of herbs de provence and then sprinkled that all overtop. Then I drizzled the lot with a little more olive oil and set it all under the broiler. But after a couple of minutes I got to thinking that a few slices of goat cheese would probably taste pretty awesome, so I stuck them in there too.

And that was my Tuesday night.

(P.S. This is obviously also great over pasta.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Daily snack: Orville Redenbacher’s Select White

I’m a big advocate of popcorn. Can’t get enough of the stuff. Fills you up, it’s a whole grain, you can make it or buy it as low fat as you like, and it tastes great. And even after all of those reports from last year that said microwavable popcorn was the number one killer in America (or some such) I kept on buying it; didn’t stop for a minute. Because I’m hooked. Have been since the mid-‘80s, when everyday after school my snack of choice was a shared sack of Orville Redenbacher’s, the trailblazer in the world of easy at-home popcorn preparation.

Even when my bottom lip would swell and then harden due to some sort of allergic reaction (it was either the yellow dye or the salt or the hydrogenated oil; still not sure) – I kept eating it. And I’m still eating.

But today marks the dawn of a whole new era in my world of microwavable popcorn, as I’ve just tried Orville Redenbacker’s new Select White for the first time. White, light, fluffy like cirrus clouds and as salty as a brackish estuary; there’s a touch of real butter in there too and you can really taste it, albeit mixed in with the bad boy palm oil.

It’s by far the best microwavable popcorn I’ve ever had. In fact, it’s so good that even if my lip swells up again, I’m going to keep on eating.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This just in: Thirty in Twenty

I don't normally post about events, but this is a good one, a unique one, and after seeing the photos and sampling some of the goodies and meeting Toni and Ria Harting, I can almost guarantee you'd have a great time.

Thirty in Twenty is a photo exhibit of shots taken during the couple's 1973 trip to France, where they ate in as many Michelin rated three star restaurants as possible in three weeks, while living out of an old VW. "Thirty" refers to the combined total stars consumed in twenty days.

Taking place at The Department Gallery Mainspace on Dundas St. in Toronto, while the photo exhibit runs until September 26th, and is a free event, it's the delectable receptions that you should really attend. That's because some of Toronto's most celebrated chefs will be preparing food inspired from the original menus offered in 1973 at Maxim’s, Paul Bocuse, La Pyramide, and L'’Oasis.

Tickets are $60 per single event or $150 for all three Thursday receptions and are available for purchase here.

All events run from 7-10pm and are stand-up, passed around, generous hors d'oeuvres.

Thursday, September 10 – Chefs Bertrand Alépée and Jason Inniss (of Amuse Bouche) will prepare food from the menu of L'OASIS in La Napoule.

Thursday, September 17 – Chefs Tawfik Shehata (of Vertical) and John Lee ( of Chippy’s, Hilton Garden Inn) will prepare food from the menu of MAXIM'S in Paris.

September 24 - Chef Donna Dooher (of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen) will prepare food from the menu of PAUL BOCUSE in Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or.

Jamie Drummond (my sommelier/friend; worth the price alone) will preside as sommelier for all scheduled functions. What's more, Toni and Ria Harting will be in attendance at each event to meet guests and speak briefly about their dining extravaganza. They'll definitely get you thinking about your next European holiday...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Green herbs risotto

Here’s what to do with all of the overgrown herbs waning in your garden. One of my go-to favourites: Green risotto.

Your green risotto will probably be much greener than mine because I was out of spinach so didn’t include it. (Sue me.) But, I did have a bunch of green onions in the crisper so I used those instead. See what I just did there? I substituted. And you can do it too. Love cilantro? Put in it. Are you all about basil? Well then, who’s stopping you? Orgasmic for oregano? Find tarragon tantalizing? Terrific! Just so long as your choices are fresh, herbaceous and green, there are no wrong answers here.


(Serves 4)


For risotto:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 big bunch chives, minced

1 cup parsley, minced (plus extra for garnish)

1 cup spinach, minced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white wine or Vermouth

pinch of chili flakes

1 tsp lemon zest and juice of half a lemon

1/4 cup grated or shaved Parmesan

fresh cracked pepper


In a heavy pot, heat 2 tbsp of butter and oil together, add prepped garlic, onion, parsley and spinach and cook together on low heat for five minutes. Stir in rice, coating with herb and butter mixture. Have stock simmering on the stove for easy access.

Add a cup of warm stock, stir, bring to a boil and let it absorb. Keep adding about a 1/2 cup at a time, letting the liquid evaporate each time, until the four cups of stock have been used. Stir, stir, stir! From start to finish this process with take about 20 minutes.

Keep the risotto on low, stir in the wine, chili flakes, lemon, cheese and maybe another knob of butter. Dish it up while it’s hot; top each plate with a good shaving of Parmesan. And a flourish of pepper grindings.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A cookie for every season

It’s back to school next week, which is another way of saying that summer’s officially over. But here’s one last shot, a pretty picture of my niece with some beautifully decorated cookies. (Only Rosens make cookies in their bathing suits.)

I should add that the cookies were totally gross. We had found some unlabelled dough in the freezer and figured it was sugar dough. It wasn’t. (Still not sure what it was; maybe a savoury pie crust?) Either way, let this be a lesson: Never decorate unmarked freezer dough.

But even if eating them wasn’t that much fun, making them sure was. And isn’t that half the joy of cooking and baking?

I recently found an even better way to get great, homemade cookies in a flash. Click here to find out where and how. (Yum.)