Monthly Archives: May 2011

You crazy Czechs!

Imagine peeling back the fingernail.

Unwanted company?  No problem.  Use your basic Linzer Cookie Dough and bake up some bloody finger pastry.

This was passed down to my mom through the Czech email chain.  It’s for the “blushing bride”.

See how practical the East Europeans are?  Scare away your guests but do it using a good homemade pastry.  And good jam–mainly fruit.  You don’t want to look like a bad hostess for God’s sake. And you’re not going to let these perfectly good cookies go to waste.  They’ll be great for dipping in coffee. Not like those rock-hard biscotti things the Italians make.

And while we’re on the subject of Czech humour (were we?)…..please forgive this.  (and don’t think there’s not a “Will you take a Czech?” panel too.)

Why isn't it in Czech?


Filed under All Recipes, Strange but Tasty

Breaking free of the 100 mile diet and feeling fine

My fleeting one-month stand, Alphonso

Alphonso flew in from India.  I felt I had to see him.  And peel him. And cut him up. And eat him and be sticky. Because he’s only here for a brief time (season is April-May), so who am I to hum and haw about his homeland being slightly out of the 100-mile loop of India.

No, you can’t get Alphonsos at the local market (and yes, I love to shop at the local market–yay corn, yay carrots, yay elk meat) but deliciousness is deliciousness. ( I know–one can say that about veal and foie gras and Cheetos too) but FOCUS people.  This is an experience that is truly unique and yes, comes from another country.  But these are not foreign potatoes than we can grow in our own backyard.

Morning Mango--and I'm usually anti-fruit with breakfast.

The colour of the Alphonso is more intense then the orange of a pumpkin shell.  The fleshy interior is soft, yielding and not at all stringy…and the flavour…it’s  Super Duper Duper Mango–rich, sweet and with a slight perfumed aroma.

My box of Alphonsos came by way of Kohinoor Foods at Gerrard and Ashdale.  Our friend Ron got the Tweet alert.  Marilyn, his wife, called the store and was told the shipment had arrived the previous evening.  She kindly picked us up a box.  They will not be available as long as usual because the crop was affected by colder than usual weather this past winter.

So go to Little India and talk to the shopkeepers and have them pull out a special box of these mangoes from behind the counter  (with a knowing look in their eye).  And squeeze them a bit and pay the $25 for one box, and feel happy as you see the shipping sticker that says, “Air India”.

And go home dreaming about the best mango lassi you’ve ever had in your life, just a blender whrrrrrr  away.  Made with local yogurt of course.  Duhhh….

Darling, save the last mango pit for me....


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Filed under Blogs with cooking tips, Ruminations on the Edible

Dave’s Nutbar Recipe (more thorough than a prostrate exam)

Top Secret Ratios

These Nut Bars make a great energy boost after an exhaustively uplifting episode of Glee or before an emotionally draining episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

In case you can’t quite follow the arrows and my brother’s handwriting, here’s how we made the super-tatsy, energy-supplying, don’t die hungry if stranded in the forest (or a big mall) nut bars.

The recipe is below but anything in RED is my brother’s advice from his many nutbar tests.  My sister-in-law read his comments and thinks she is married to Alton Brown.  I read his comments and wondered how he does anything else aside from making nut bars.

Ratio for solid ingredients:

(assuming 1 cup=1 part in this case to work with binding agent measurements)

1 part Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax ect)

Sesame seeds are great. Use ground flax, unprocessed flax just passes though your system with little benefit.  Ground flax is a great way to add fiber to the bars.  I think in the batch we used we crushed a bunch of bran cereal as a substitute.  If you like seeds, you can also replace some of the nuts with seeds.

2 parts Oats/granola (half should be rolled oats)

Any dry complex carbohydrate can be used here. No need for sugar so you can go all oats. For a nuttier bar, use only rolled oats. They have a lower GI.   (Some may not like the texture/taste. Personally this is a good thing because it leave more bars for me to eat.)

 In a bind, you can go ghetto and add puffed rice. There is enough quick energy in the sugars of the binding agent, so aim for carbs with a LOW glycemic index. (

3 parts Dried fruit (roughly chopped cherries, apricots, raisins, prunes, blueberries ect)

Stay away from any fibrous fruit. No dried apple, peach, mango, etc… I wasn’t so fond of the  prunes either. Pineapple, apricot and dried cherries are the best. no need to chop the cherries.  Better not to actually.

Oh, FINELY chopped candied ginger gives the bars a nice aromatic flavour.  Do not use more than 1/2 cup… 1/4 cup is plenty.

4 parts Nuts (roughly chopped almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts ect)

If you hate chopping, either buy pre-chopped nuts (they are cheaper) or use some combination of walnuts and cashews. In the later case, after you measure out all the nuts, you can just crush them by hand in a large bowl… make sure to do this before you add the oats or crushing them by hand will be harder/more messy.

Binding Agent

3/4 cup honey  (do not substitute–Dave has tried and for some reason honey is key)

Honey is 1.5% sucrose, 7% maltose and the remainder nearly equal parts of fructose and dextrose with a little bit of H2thrown in. You could probably use some combinations of other liquid sugars that works out to the same ratios.  My guess is that corn syrup would work here. Its about 50/50 fructose/glucose IIR.

1/2 cup brown sugar (can try molasses or corn syrup)

Any sucrose can be used… maple syrup is nice, but you will need to bake the final product a little longer, or boil it off by simmering the binding agent for a little longer.

2 ounces fat (butter or oil)  This is necessary to keep the bars chewy and not hard.

It’s not important what type of fats you use, if you prefer unsaturated fats you can use olive oil, sesame oil, etc.  I favour Macadamian nut butter. The little jar I bought had the  almost the same grams of fat per volume as butter.  It give the bars a really nice creamy taste.  It is expensive though. As a rule of thumb, just keep the fats equal to those found in 2oz of butter. DO NOT USE PEANUT BUTTER. It will ruin the bar… tried several times. You need too much of it to give you the fats you need and all that peanut butter turns the bars into dense bricks.  If you want a peanut taste, add crushed peanuts!

vanilla (to taste)

salt (to taste–careful if you’ve used salted nuts))

**you can add other spices, cocoa powder or flavouring in here too–maybe anise extract?


1. Combine nuts, oats and seeds and warm in oven at 350 F for 15 minutes.

Be careful not to toast them too much. They will get another 20 minute bath of heat soon. The point here is to just warm them up so they will not shock the binder into solidifying.  The warm nuts make it easy to combine evenly with the binder.

2. In a large pot combine the binding agent ingredients and melt til smooth.

3. Add in the dried fruit mix and then add in the other dry ingredients-mix till all combined and coated.

Be careful how long you leave the fruit in the simmering binder before the nuts are added. They will quickly start to absorb the binder and leave less to hold the bars together.  I guess you could use this to your advantage if you have some fluid to remove like the case where you used maple syrup instead of crystallized sucrose.

4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.  Flatten the mixture onto the parchment.

5. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.  (you want the bars to lose some moisture and become solid, but not too crunchy so check them at the 12-15 minute mark).

The only thing you can check here is whether or not the bars are burning (getting too dark). The sugars at this temperature will make the flattened goo seem softer than it will be when everything cools. Stick with 15-20 minutes for your first batch. Every combination of ingredients, even if you keep to the 4-3-2-1 ratio will require a slightly different bake time. This is where practice makes perfect. The other bake time factor is the thickness of the bars.  The thicker they are, the harder it is for the moisture in the center to escape. When experimenting with your bars, try different sizes of cookie sheets that allow you to play with the thickness.  Erin likes gooier bars than I do, so you could even make half a sheet a bit thicker for the goo lovers and thin out the other side for a harder (and cleaner) bar.

Cool and divide.

Winter is dangerous… the bars cool fast and cold bars get brittle.  It’s best to cut them slightly over room temp.  If you cool them in the fridge or freezer and forget about them, it’s better to let them warm up before cutting.

Back to Sue:

I’m now excited and terrified to make these on my own.  Because if I screw these up after the minute instructions supplied by Dave, I will run into the woods wearing only nylons and a bandana and chew on tree bark until I pass out from sobbing.


Filed under All Recipes, Blogs with cooking tips, Ruminations on the Edible

Busting (out) Some Sicilian Balls

Can I be this good? We shall see.

It wasn’t until I had the addictive arancine at Enoteca Sociale that I decided to try and make them myself. They were so delicious that I could not bear to be without immediate access in my own home.  When I say immediate I mean after you’ve made the rice and the ragu for the filling and dredged them and deep fried them.  But after that–they’re ready in a jiff!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The arancine would be my first foray into deep-frying (in my own kitchen). My bible would be The Saveur ‘Sicily” issue (March 2011), currently sitting on the back-burner of my desk taunting me with amazing recipes for local Sicilian dishes (recipe here).

I made the ragu in advance.  Not so much an indication of proper planning and forethought–more a result of “Oh crap– that beef has been sitting in the fridge forever”  Which is why the pictures below, taken at 11pm at night under tungsten lights are a bit….yellow.   I started out with a finely chopped mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot) which I sautéed until soft.

You then add in ground beef and ground pork and cook until browned.  Finally you add fresh, strained tomato sauce and some tomato paste and simmer until it thickens (30 minutes-ish).

Finally, let the sauce cool and put it in the fridge.  Meanwhile you make your rice.  In my case, you make the sauce and put it in the fridge and make the rice 2 days later. (as you can see, it might just be faster to cross town and go to Enoteca Sociale for my arancine fix).  But less an adventure.

Love this machine. Less incidence of runny mascara. (and mascara is KEY to a good arancine.)

For the rice you begin with a minced, small red onion and sautéed over medium til softened. The you add 1 1/2 cup Arborio rice.

Arborio Rice- pearly white, short-grained rice used for risotto

Once you stir in the rice and coat with the oil and onion, you add the key ingredient “1/4 tsp crushed saffron“.  Well, it did not even occur to me I did not have saffron.  Until I could not find it–did I hastily purge it one day in with “clean out the pantry” conviction?  Or was it just stuck somewhere in a large crack in the back of my very deep, 1960s cupboards which would require removing about 15 bottle of various oils and vinegars to even begin a search.  What to do!?  So much for mise-en-place.

I had no choice, I just added some turmeric for colour at least.  (Shhh, don’t tell anyone in Sicily).  Then I added 1 1/2 cups water, brought it up to a boil and removed it from the heat.  You need to let it sit for 20 minutes.

In case your imagination can't handle a covered pot with arborio rice inside.

I grated 2 tbsp of parmesan while I waited and stirred that into the rice with some salt and pepper.

Once everything is combined you spread the rice on a tray and let it cool.

Don’t you (kind of) want to press your face into this?

Meanwhile you can make your batter by whisking together 1/4 cup flour, 2 eggs and 1/2 cup water. Set up a separate bowl for the bread crumbs.

At this point, I am thinking, this is so much fun.

Assembly:  You take a hearty tbsp of the rice in your hand a flatten it into a disc. Then make a bit of a well in the centre and then put in about 1 tbsp of your cooled ragu.

Using your fingers you bring the edges of the rice around the filling to gently enclose the ragu.  Finally you roll the ball around in your hand to seal it and to slightly compact the mixture. The recipe makes 2 dozen arancine.

It works. Now to make 23 more.

It took a bit of practise to figure out how much ragu was too much, and to seal it without the ragu showing through.  Donna, our babysitter, had actually stayed to watch me finish and I think after one ragu ball and 23 more to go she was regretting her enthusiasm.  “I’d just buy them frozen” she said.  (Have I mentioned how much more efficient Donna is than me?)

Finally, they were done.  I actually made 22, so I think I sized them fairly well.

Now to dredge in the batter and coat in the bread crumbs.


I started heating up the Canola oil in my Dutch Oven bringing it up to 360 F.

Battered and ready for service. Enoteca here I come!

I fried the arancine in batches of four.

Frying arancine feels rustic, unlike frying mozzarella which feels like a hangover.

Recipe says to pop them into the hot oil for about 3 minutes until the exterior is golden.  I timed it and 3 minutes seemed about right.  Finally my 22 balls of arancine are down and cooling on paper towels.

Oh boy--I wish there was more than two adults and a toddler to eat 22 of these.

And voila! (wait, that’s French) ummm, Tah-Dah!  Is that universal?  My Sicilian balls were a success.  I will make these again.  Maybe in advance and then just deep fry them at the last minute for an appetizer or a patio snack if you were entertaining.

Suck it Enoteca Sociale.

Anything I would do differently?  Well, not eat five in a row.  Remember the saffron.  Also, the rice seemed like it could have been cooked a little more though I followed the recipe and it had absorbed all the water.   (Ok, fine, don’t suck it Enoteca Sociale–you’re still better than me.  For now.)   Maybe I need to be better aquainted with the brand of arborio rice I had.  Overall though–I love Sicily!  Especially if a Sicilian nona wants to make these for me.  Maybe an ad for Craigslist.


Filed under All Recipes, Restaurants and Products, Ruminations on the Edible

Top Chef: Episode 7

Andrea is ready for battle in Eps 7, “I’m better than the shit I’m putting out.”  You’re no chopped horse tartar Andrea–and don’t let any Facebook Page tell you different.

Quickfire Challenge

Welcome Chef Michael Smith–at first glance I think “wow-he’s insanely tall” and as usual I’m irritated by his hairstyle.  I’m sorry fans but Chef Smith grates on my nerves. No, we’ve never met–I’ve constructed this conflict through my personal Food Network viewing. I just find him a bit “know it all goody two-shoes guy-always cookin’ up a stew”.  Also, no one’s friggin’ pantry has that many clean glass jars you Chef at Home (the show should be called Chef On Set).  But I digress.

There is a not-so-funny trick pulled during the Quickfire where each chef picks a closed pot with a secret ingredient inside.  Except all the pots contain All Bran.  We watch all the chefs unveil this same ingredient  over and over and still the joke never really becomes funny. (Flogging a dead Product Placement it’s known as in the biz.)

Each Chef is to be unique and innovative with their All Bran.  They have 30 minutes.

Todd wants to stay true to Newfoundland (I love Todd but honestly–branch out to PEI or somethin’) and pulls out some salt cod from the sleeve where he has hidden a season’s worth of  East Coast fish and seafood.

Darryl as always is keeping it simple (which would actually be just adding milk, but he goes for panko/bran encrusted shrimp) and Francois has a crazy idea to make All Bran gnocchi which turn out, in his own words, “tough and chewy” but an excellent source of fibre.

Rob burns his Southern Fried Chicken and Patrick says he has so many ideas he can’ stop them.  Does he know we’re cooking with All Bran?

For the first time that I can recall, the guest Chef stops and comments on every dish instead of the usual neutral swallow and “Thank you Chef”.   Chef M.S wags his finger and tsk tsks his ways through everyone’s plate.  (I warned you I had issues…)  For the first time I see Dustin drop his smile when Chef-It -All says, “and these drips on the plate–are they also All Bran?”

He lectures Rob about his burnt wings, “this is Top Chef Canada Rob!”.  Unfortunately Chef-It-All forgot his metre stick and dunce caps in the pantry back home.

Finally, in a show of East Coast solidarity, Todd’s salt cod brandade wins the day, “it’s beautiful–crunchy, sweet and soft”.   Todd says he is humbled.  (I love Todd- I want to be invited to dinner at his house.  I want Todd and Connie to open a restaurant.  I want All Bran!  Wait– where did that come from?)


Sadly, Chef-It-All is not eliminated.  He is still with us.  And so is Milestones.  The Chefs will each be asked to create a course in a three-course romantic anniversary meal for a full house of couples at Milestones. The winning dishes will be featured on the Milestone’s “Top Chef” menu. All must comply with the Milestone’s agenda of “familiar food with a twist”.   Like pizza-in the shape of a heart?   Anything with pesto in the shape of a heart?  Wait–molten chocolate cake…in the shape of a heart??  (I could totally win this.)

The chefs  have $225 and twenty minutes to shop.  Most of the chefs are running around like crazy, Connie’s crazy is showcased when talking to the camera almost deadpan admitting ,”it’s really not much time” while she laconically orders her meat at the butcher counter.

We don’t see Connie a lot on camera.  I think its because she doesn’t say a lot of dumb-ass things. Like when Dale informs us that A. he will not lower himself to cooking for a chain restaurant and B. his Pavlova will “not only be a sensual dessert–but maybe even sexual.”  (Ummm, OK.  He does include a cherry on the plate…I’ll leave that to your Pavlovic interpretation.)

Connie is worried she is going too rustic–she’s making pork croquettes and a spicy aïoli–her grandmother’s recipe.  For Milestones, she seems pretty savvy with the deep-fried idea.

So competing against each other are:

Appetizers: Connie, Andrea and Todd.

Main:Francois, Patrick and Rob

Dessert: Dale, Dustin and Daryll

The Milestone’s couples and judges are digging (and digging into) Connie’s croquettes. Andrea’s ravioli somehow gets served cold and the goat cheese is discoloured by the black garlic which no one can taste.

For mains, Francois comes out a winner with his roasted sablefish with seaweed gnocchi in a mushroom and tamarind jus.   As pumped as Jeff the Milestone’s guy is about its “taste profile” I really cannot believe that the Milestones crowd is going to be keen on “seaweed gnocchi”.  (If they are –well, I’ll eat my All Bran Gnocchi paper weights!)

Patrick makes a disastrous explosion of his pork tenderloin dish where the pork is way undercooked and he’s thrown in every spice he can think of.  For him it’s an explosion of love but for judge Shereen Arazm his whole style “is like fusion confusion.”

Desserts all succeed with the crowd but Dustin’s Strawberry shortcake with a lemon curd twist and flower petals has an leg up.  Adorably, it’s his girlfriend’s recipe (who is also his pastry chef).

In an interesting preview of next week’s “Restaurant Wars” theme we see the chefs (even Connie) freaking out during service when chits are moved, ingredients go missing and customers walk in late after all the mise-en-place has been packed up.  Andrea yells the most though.  She explains that yelling shows that she has balls, not that she’s a bitch.  I’m going to try that excuse at the park on my next play date.

Judges’s Table

The top three:

Connie for apps, Francois for Mains and Dustin for Dessert.

In the end Dustin’s Strawberry shortcake fits Milestone’s menu like a glove.  And I might actually head to Milestone’s for my anniversary–it looks pretty damn good.

The bottom three:

Andrea (cold ravioli with grey filling), “good idea but bad execution.  Not a sharing dish.”

Dale (deconstructed sexual Pavlova) basically gets his wrist slapped for ignoring the challenge.  He’s told he has to learn to work within the confines of the exercise.  If the world wants Jello-on-a-Cloud Dale…

Patrick gets reamed out for the mess he made of his presentation. He defends himself by saying, “my hands are too big so my dish was messy.”   Poor bear.

Not surprisingly, Patrick is sent packing.  The rest of the group is saddened and they toast “the bear”.  Andrea looks like she might cry, though let’s face it, it’s probably tears of relief. His raw pork saved her grainy ravioli ass.

All the obvious eliminations have happened.  Even Francois has stepped up his game.  So maybe the real competition will start next week…..see you for Restaurant Wars.


Filed under Top Chef Canada Season 1

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Nut Squares?

The Dave Riedl Nut Bar-- half tray (he was just slumming)

When someone uses the term “binding agent” in a recipe that they recite off the top of their head and it’s broken down into a ratio of ingredients (by carbs, fibre and some other healthy categories that might include kale for all I know) you start to question your own mental catalogue of recipes.

For one thing, the only recipe I know off the top of my head is for whipped cream and I might possibly be able to pull off a meringue.  It dawns on me that I could never survive in the wilderness without an electric mixer and vanilla extract.

But my brother Dave could.  Because through countless trial and error experiments, he has perfected the ultimate portable energy bar.  Not only does it contain delicious nuts and dried fruit, it is chewy without falling apart, and moist without being excessively sticky.  A major concern when mittens or formal wear is  involved.

A quick lick of binding agent

Dave and my nephew were up from Omaha for the weekend and we made a half batch after raiding my mom’s shelves.  The actual recipe/ algorithm is at the bottom of the post.

First you roughly chops the nuts you’re using (we used brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts).  Then add the seeds (pumpkin and sunflower).

Nuts-economically sourced from my mom's stash

Add rolled oats and some wheat germ or ground flax.  (We did not do this but we did have a healthy debate over the need to grind flax and the actual health benefits of wheat germ and how many tbsps is 3/8ths of a cup anyway?)

Toasting the dry ingredients.

While you toast the dry ingredients, you can cut up your dried fruit….

Here comes some Vitamin A

And make your binding agent.  In this case, honey, brown sugar and butter. You need fat to keep the bars soft when baked.

Concocting the Binding Agent-butter and honey

Once you’ve melted everything into a liquid you can add other seasoning.  We added some cocoa and chili powder.  Then you mix in the dried fruit.

Apricots, dates and raisins meet hot, gooey, cocoa liquid.

And then you mix in the dry mixture.  And try not to eat it right away.

A pot of bound-less energy.

And now to flatten it out, and bake for about 25 minutes.  Let cool.

Taming the energy.

And finally you can either eat this as one giant energy bar, (though it is harder to find a decent sized Ziploc for that size of a snack) or cut it up into pocket-size portions.  (Not suitable for bathing suit pockets-best to bury this in the sand while you swim and dig it up after.)

RECIPE HERE. It’s is a good one.


Filed under All Recipes, Blogs with cooking tips, Ruminations on the Edible

Top Chef Canada: Episode 6

Horse Meat.  Andrea cooked with horse meat and people freaked out and started a Facebook page to protest.  Where’s the protest page against cute little lamb slaughter, and tiny helpless frogs and HELLO! Foie Gras people!  You have work to do. The geese need you.  Sorry Facebook activists you can’t feel sick inside about your friend Flicka being a main course, but have no problem eating a juicy cow steak.  It’s just not French-which in Episode 6–is the whole point.  Perhaps a side of frites would help.  Or were you just subconsciously outraged at the lack of toast with the tartar?  Cracker-hmph.

The Quickfire Challenge:

Chuck Hughes from “Chuck’s Day Off” is the Quickfire judge.  He’s injured his leg which makes him even more “friggin’ cute” for Andrea and Francois thinks the cane with a skull is “pretty cool.”

Francois becomes the “star” character (or caricature) of Episode 6.  He is the “goofy Frenchman” and whenever we see him from now on he will have some  french bistro music (cue the accordian) playing in the background or a “somethings’ up!” theme worthy of the Pink Panther.

For once Francois is confident with the challenge: make your own version of poutine.  He clearly understands the point of the dish–  being stumbling drunk at 2am, the poutine settles the stomach and you wake up “perfect”.  Exactly!

Dale looks insulted to be associated with such plebian fare.  Apparently he sips a creme de menthe before bed and tucks himself under the afghan by 9pm. “I’m not worried, it’s a fucking poutine,” he declares.

And that is how it goes down–the “let’s refine poutine until its unrecognizable” group–Dale makes foie gras poutine with white onion puree (puree when you’re already on the edge of puking–not helpful Dale) or Rob adds Perigod sauce, pecorino with duck and black truffle (see above reference to puree and substitute with rare duck) plus Chris who constructs a kind of “log cabin” with his thick cut fries and serves it alongside a cheese dipping sauce that has curds at the bottom–(FYI Chris, I can’t find my house keys when I’ve had too many gin and tonics–please don’t humiliate me by making me search for the curd in my poutine.)

Francois wins it–with a kind of potato pancake sandwich with melted cheese (see–now that is ingenious–a poutine that does not require a fork.)

Winning immunity and smiling (kind of sweet actually)  he says “my momma will be proud.”

(My pick would have been Todd’s poutine topped with a moose stew.  I want to drink in Newfoundland.)


We’re “back to the basics” of French cooking with uber-chef Daniel Boulud.  Andrea refers to him as “a super star” (but not super cute..sorry Daniel).  Chef Boulud is Dale’s mentor and Dale is ready to sculpt his likeness out of horse meat if he has to.

The challenge: a 10-course tasting menu using French proteins which each chef pulls from the knife block. This is where Andrea pulls the horse meat (she does look as if candid camera is going to pop out any second). Francois pulls “hazelnut” but by winning elimination he is allowed to switch with anyone.  He takes “frog’s legs” from a relieved looking Todd.

Dale sulks for the rest of the show after pulling “oysters”.  “My margin of freedom is nothing” he says.  Make Daniel love you Dale–oysters are an aphrodisiac after all.

Francois has the privilege of putting the menu in its serving order.  It goes from the top: Oysters-Dale, Horse-Andrea, Foie Gras-Chris, Lobster-Connie, Skate-Daryll, Frog Legs-Francois, Sweet Breads-Rob, Rabbit-Patrick, Lamb-Dustin and Hazelnuts-Todd.

Essentially all the chefs are relying on their French Basics training–possibly back from cooking school–and hoping to impress one of the best chefs in the world.

Darryl decides to stay basic and Rob stays catty, “Salt’s too fancy for Darryl” he quips.

Chris has no idea what to do with foie gras so logically decides to make a foie torchon in one day when it actually requires  three.

Dale works out his frustration by folding his linens –snapping them into crisp squares.  He’s never been happier all episode.  Maybe he should make a napkin swan and float his oysters to the table.

Francois is tres confidant because, “I have studied in French, worked two years in France and oh yah..also I have immunity.”

I anticipate more Inspector Clousot music when we discover that Francois has never made frog’s legs in his life.  That crazy Quebecer!

Ultimately Francois pulls off the frogs legs, the judges are impressed.  The visual slightly reminds me of a Kermit the Frog massacre but it is bright and fresh looking. Judges love it.  Cue love theme from Amelie.

Rob modestly admits “he rocks” before he goes out to serve. And so he does.  DB pays the ultimate compliment, “a very well executed dish”  (Sweet breads, garlic puree, chanterelles, brussel sprouts and smoked bacon.)

Guest judge Laura Calder (French Chef at Home) questions whether Todd’s Tarte Tatin puff pastry is homemade (good call–homemade by Presidents’s Choice. Laura).

Judges Table

First let me say that Mark McEwan is showing up for briefer and briefer periods in these episodes–(does he have a food empire to run or something?)

Top 4:

Francois (frogs’ legs, salsify purée and parsley jus), Connie (lobster bisque, scallop dumpling, brandy chantilly cream), Rob (sweet breads) and Dustin (rack of lamb with baby vegetables and parsnip purée).

Rob steals the win with the classiest of the classic dishes.

Bottom 4:

Andrea: the horse meat tartar made more of an impact on Facebook.  Judges find it bland and are melodramatic about the fact that she served it with a cracker and not toast.  Poor Andrea –she really looks like she’s taking it hard.

Darryl- his skate dish is as lemony as lemon pie-not in a good way.

Todd- admits his first instinct was a souffle rather than the Tarte Tatin.  Everyone seems to think, “waaaaay better idea”.  Chef Boulud gently suggests that Todd practice making puff pastry 2 hrs a week as penance.

Chris- basically a disaster of raw liver that is also under seasoned.  Chris looks defiant and essentially tells the judges that, “though I know nothing about foie gras, I stand by my raw, mushy torchon of disappointment.”

Not surprisingly–Chris is sent packing.  Onwards…and downwards?  Milestones coming up next!

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Filed under Top Chef Canada Season 1

Woman discovers that Martha Stewart can bake

My latest discovery-hot off the press in 2005

Yes, I know, next I’ll be gushing about a great new dish called “Miso Black Cod” or enthusing about that new gadget called the “electric mixer”.  After many years of having Martha’s Stewart’s Baking Handbook in my cart I finally pressed “check out” and bought it.  My amazon purchases are strange in that things like this cookbook which I could have been referencing for years I feel guilty about “splurging” on but The Wild Sweets dessert book (as awesome as it is) I order without second thought though I have yet to make an Ice Wine Foam.

But-in case it’s been around so long you’ve forgotten about it–let me reintroduce you.  It’s got General Baking Tips (read a recipe all the way through–how guilty am I off not doing that–oops- I need lavender petals?), explains general baking techniques  such as how to add a drop of lemon to your caramel instead of wiping down the sides of your pot to prevent sugar crystallizing or shows pictures of the stages of whipping egg whites (there should be a wallet size pull-out of that.)

Chewy Crispy Cookie-ness.

It just has a whole whack of amazing recipes that are well-written, well explained and look gorgeous (as you would expect).  But doable.  Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake with Mint Chocolate Ganache, Potato and Onion Tarte Tatin and a zillion amazing cookies that would make most mom’s hate you at the Bake Sale.

The package arrived on a Friday.  Saturday morning at 7am Felix and I were ready to bake.  (Well, we were up so why not–plus I love baking in the early morning).  We went with the “yep, I have the ingredients” recipe.  Chewy, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

7:30 am. My work is done.

We ate a bunch of dough raw, we had a few incidences of small hands near a whirling mixer and much impatience as we watched them flatten in the hot oven, and a toasty sweet cookie aroma filled the kitchen.

Get thee to a cookie jarrery.

Now imagine these with an Ice Wine Foam.


Filed under All Recipes, Blogs with cooking tips, Cookbooks, Magazines (+recipes from), Ruminations on the Edible

Top Chef Canada: Episode 5

To my chagrin and pissed-off-ness (actually the definition of chagrin) my Roger’s cable showed a black screen for the first few minutes of Episode 5.  In trying to determine what I missed I checked the Top Chef Canada website and saw that Francois had won immunity.   I was flabbergasted.  Could I not make fun of him anymore?  Was he a master at something?  Nope, turns our he just pulled a horseshoe from his ass and a knife from the knife block that read “hog wild” granting him instant immunity.

Everyone else was divided into two teams–black and white.  Each team was gifted with an entire heritage pig to butcher courtesy of guest judge Stephen Alexander, owner of Cumbrae’s (and Toronto’s local Meat Celebrity).

Anyone who didn’t pull “hog wild” on their knife pulled a cut of meat (picnic shoulder, leg, shoulder butt, belly or loin) and each team member had to properly butcher their pork portion (from the whole pig) under Stephen’s watchful eye and pained expression.  The Quickfire Round was more about hacking than elegant knife skills.

The most heartening thing about the butchery was the enthusiasm.  The chefs actually looked like they were having fun.  Knife, corpse and tearing flesh turned out to be a good time.

Connie and Chris’s skill gave the black team an advantage, until Darryl stepped in and impressed Stephen, helping the white team catch up. It was down to the wire between Andrea and Dustin.  Dustin cuts his finger. Pit stop for band-aid and rubber glove. Andrea saws away at the pig while Jamie looks on-perhaps a little too enthused.  Dustin finishes just before her.

Stephen concludes that there were “flashes” (blink and you’d miss ’em) of pretty good butchery.  I will never sell you any of my farm-raised pigs or even a breakfast sausage–your faces are seared in my mind was the look in his eyes.

Black team wins each chef an extra $100 for shopping in the Elimination Round.

Elimination Round

Each chef must prepare two types of appetizers for a fund raising function benefitting The Food Bank of Canada.  One appetizer must include the cut of meat they butchered earlier.

The chefs discover they will be cooking in a secret location.

Francois, “Shit, I’m cooking in a new kitchen…just when I had taped my cheat sheet of the French Mother Sauces to the fridge in the GE kitchen

Chris, “I just need flames, pots and water…and a melon-baller but I’m trying to sound hard-core right now.”

Jamie, “I want to win for many reasons. Money is one. My mom is my main restaurant investor and she’s almost broke…..she’s eating at the Food Bank right now so I can have a restaurant.  I hope the fund raising goes well for her sake.”

Rob–I can’t remember what he said but OMG–I realize he is Clark Kent in chef form.

The chefs and the reception end up at George Brown College. Guest Chef is John Higgins, director of the GB Chef School and Andrea’s mentor.

The big surprise is that the chefs themselves will be mentoring a George Brown student who will act as their sous-chef.  The students are forced to wear tall, paper chef hats in a cruel, televised hazing ritual.

Rob makes jokes about his sous-chef because he’s “geriatric and older than his dad”.  He forgets to add the classic insult “old geezer”.  Later, after successfully bossing him around Rob is more forgiving, “Dwayne’s a nice guy. He was a Major in the military so he takes orders really well.”

Andrea’s sous chef is truly adorable and Andrea nicknames her Minnie.

Dale says he will be a “father figure” to his apprentice, cleverly segueing into name-dropping “Boulud” and “Ramsay” as his father figures.

Overall, the chefs are finally looking comfortable-like they’re forgetting this is a contest and just doing what they love–cooking (hopefully) impressive food.

Still loving Connie.  So professional but relaxed and sweet with her sous-chef.  Contrast with a shot of Chris lording over his table like Sauron about to wage war against the elves in LOTR.

The Final Judgment

Top Four:  Andrea “best tasting dish of the day” (Dry Spice Rubbed Pork Loin with Sweet Ontario Corn Polenta), Dale impresses with both dishes (a Thai consommé with poached black cod and sous-vide pork with sauerkraut), Rob’s “perfect dishes”  (confit pork and rillette and a crab and scallop croquette)  and Dustin “who’s come a long way up from the bottom–go dude!” (Pork Loin & Bacon and an Apple Terrine with Calvados Vanilla Creme Fraiche).

Dale walks away with a well-earned victory.

Bottom FourPatrick, Todd, Jamie and Darryl.

Todd apparently “took homey food to a lower level”.  Darryl’s flavours were “milky and muddy” and Patrick, basically, no one could remember ever being impressed with Patrick.

Best line of the show, Chef McEwan to Jamie about his salmon mousse, “if you’re a salmon and this is how you end your life, on this plate–that’s sad.”

For a few moments you think this is the end for Patrick, but WHAM, Jamie is asked to pack his bags.  It could be the fact that he tried to blame the judges for “never giving him any positive feedback” and then blaming his student sous-chef for distracting his focus.  I’m sure he’s going to go home, find the bank where his poor mom is defaulting on her loan  and blame her too.

He left us with this memorable…..veiled threat… “Canada only saw the tip of what I’m capable of.”  Looking forward to seeing Jamie on Canada’s Top Psycho.


Filed under Top Chef Canada Season 1

Toast Post: Louis D’Or

Louis D'Or from Quebec reclines on avocado from Mexico

I first had Louis D’Or last fall.  I was smitten fast.  I wanted to move the relationship forward, make it more permanent but our fling was brief.  Louis D’Or was one hard cheese to track down.

It entered my life again this April, at the same time as Ben Mulroney who was hosting the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Being in cocktail attire, at an event where wedges of cheese are being flashed onto giant screens while Ben Mulroney is announcing, “and nominees in the fresh cheese category are…” is slightly like being at a Star Trek convention for cheese lovers (geeks, OK, geeks) or (as my friend pointed out) being in an excellent mockumentary.

Louis D’Or swept the night. I wondered what Louis was thinking about all the fuss around him.  Maybe, “If I win this category will Ben Mulroney’s hands touch my rind? Ok, I’ve now won two categories, this is going well, now will he touch me?   Maybe if I sweep the awards, surely he’ll glance my way.  Nothing?!  Are you serious?  There’s my maker–he’s shaking hands with my maker!  OMG, please come over here and wash my rind before I ferment myself!”

Louis D’Or in 11 words or more:  Firm, washed-rind. The producer is Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, Quebec.  They also make the excellent blue cheese Bleu D’Elizabeth. Made with raw, organic cow sourced from the cheese maker’s farm.  When I first had the cheese last fall I loved its complexity and fruity, caramel and herbal notes which reminded me a bit of Comté.   I think I may have had the 9 month old version because when I tasted it at the Grand Prix it seemed further aged (further sleuthing has me thinking 18 months)–more crumble, less suppleness and though complex, perhaps a little less fruity or “fresh”.  It was still lovely but I think I prefer the younger wheel.


Filed under Cheese/Cheese Related, Ruminations on the Edible, Toast Posts