Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eat Here: Bestellen

While it’s months behind schedule (oh City of Toronto, why must you mummify restaurateurs in red tape?), I had the opportunity to dine at Top Chef Canada runner-up Rob Rossi’s soon-to-open restaurant, Bestellen, at a Visa Infinite exclusive dinner (la dee da) this week. And let me tell you, this place can’t loose. In a word: Delicious. In two more words: Animal fat.

It was by far the heaviest meal I’ve ever eaten, and let the record show that I’ve spent plenty of time in Germany, have judged a competitive barbecue competition, and was a contestant in a pie-eating contest.

From the quivering pork belly starter on a silky chestnut puree, to the butter-poached lobster sided by a lobster doughtnut, to the 40-day dry aged ribeye and bone marrow, the sidecar pommes aligot (so full of decadently stinky cheese to be rendered almost stringy), button mushrooms doused in parsley butter, a mega Canadian cheese course, and a finishing jar of pudding choumer, it took me two days to fully digest the meal (not to mention the six creative wine pairings.)

The room is warm, the service is sprightly and everything was prepared to a turn. And I can only assume when the true menu takes shape, there will be a leafy green of some sort, for those of us with weak gallbladders.

Either way, I can’t wait to return and eat my face off.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mushroom and Barley Potpie

Regarding last week’s promise of a kale recipe this week: I lied. But check out the National Post in a couple of Wednesdays for perhaps my best rapini recipe, ever.

For now, feast your eyes on this.

This is the year that vegetarian mains take centre stage: So long meatless Mondays, hello meatless any old day of the week. But if you’re going to serve your normally carnivorous family a meat-free main it’s got to be filling and it’s got to be flavourful. Here’s where whole grains, mushrooms and cheese come in handy.

Mushroom and Barley Potpie

(serves 8)

To make a hearty mushroom and barley potpie you will need 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed in a strainer, drained, then placed in a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water and 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp unsalted butter, 2 garlic cloves, minced, I bunch green onions, trimmed and finely chopped, 1 454g package sliced white or cremini mushrooms, 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced, salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 cup dry sherry, 1 475g container whole-milk ricotta, 1 square (from a two-square package) frozen puff pastry, thawed, 1 egg yolk, beaten.

Bring rinsed barley, water and salt to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 35 or 40 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside. While barley is cooking, melt butter in a large skillet, add garlic and green onions and cook for several minutes. Add mushrooms, rosemary, and a generous amount of salt and pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, or until mushrooms are soft. Add sherry, stir around for another few minutes, then transfer to a bowl and add drained barley when done. While filling cools, roll out puff pastry on a lightly flowered surface to fit on top of the baking pan. Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine cooked barley and mushroom mixture with ricotta cheese. Stir to combine. Butter a large (9x13) baking dish and add mixture, smoothing to even. Top with puff pastry, sealing to edges of baking dish, brush with egg, sprinkle with salt and cut a slit in the middle so that steam can escape. Bake in preheated oven until puffed and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes then slice into squares and serve your vegetarian delight.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remembering Rapini

Just when I thought my Jewish guilt couldn't get any worse (or better?), I'm lumbering down the produce aisles this week when I spot the bundles of rapini.
Rapini! My old friend; I hadn't given you a second thought in months, not since I fell in with the curly kale crowd.
Remember how much time we used to have for each other? I'd bathe you and blanch you, I'd stir you and steam you. Oh what fun.
And then along comes kale and you're yesterday's news. Shame on me!
Let's let bygones be bygones and start anew. I just picked up an emerald green bunch of you, and by this time next week, you'll be featured in a brand new recipe here.
Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. And also, green.
Happy New Year, rapini. (And you too, kale.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stark and sweet

It's that time of year again, when people go away to sunny locales and return to a cold and brooding Canada and wonder why it is that they live here. Why miss out on vitamin D when it's sunny all day long in Mexico?
Why freeze when you could be in Belize?
Personally, I love the change of seasons; bundling up in winter leads to welcoming the warming rays of April. Shvitzing during Toronto's humid summers means looking forward to September's autumnal bliss. (Pores get smaller, hair defrizzes, etc.)
Besides, winter has a lot going for it, including the Niagara Icewine Festival. Around this time last year I was coiffing at an ice bar in Jordan, Ontario, munching on Canada's first raisin harvest and roasting homemade marshmallows over an open fire.
Just like anything in life, you can either hide from it or embrace it.
Me? I plan on pulling on my toque and going skating -- if it ever actually snows this winter.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We need Trader Joe’s!

On a recent trip I had a few minutes to duck into Trader Joe's to pick out a bag of delicious sounding and reasonably priced items we can't get here, including a pumpkin pancake mix, which I thought would come in handy at the cottage during the holidays. Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and with the addition of melted butter, eggs and water; a few minutes later it was nothing but “Mmms” and “Wows” from the usually hard-to-please breakfast crowd. Then someone new would lumber down the stairs late and add to the chorus with a heartfelt "Yum."

This boxed mix comes by its deliciousness honestly. It's not full of bad stuff (no hight fat or sodium trickery) -- just friggin awesome, flavourful pumpkin-spiced pancakes, made even better when I toasted some pecans and poured on the maple syrup.

For five brief morning minutes, all was right with the world.

One of my brothers vows 2012 is the year he brings Trader Joe’s to Canada, even though he is not involved in the import/export business nor the food industry in any way. Understand this: He will not succeed. So if anyone out there knows someone who is already in the process of bringing Trader Joe’s to Canada or has the ability to bring Trader Joe's to Canada, please let me know so I can pass the good news along. (We really, really loved those pancakes.)

Happy New Year to one and all!