Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beet Risotto


Anyone who knows me, knows that I love making risotto and to me, it's something I often resort to when I am out of food, have no ideas and if dinner isn't served within the hour, I am going to have children's services knocking at my door. I know that to some people it is an intimidating, special occasion dish but to me, it's cooking for dummies.

At it's most desperate - I mean simple, it's just a cup or so of arborio rice, whatever vegetable I find lying at the bottom of the crisper, scrape the ice off of a handful of frozen shrimp or the last dregs from the bag of peas that I found when I was scrounging around in the freezer for the shrimp, a carton of low sodium chicken broth, a bit of butter and fresh parmesan and dinner is on the table in half an hour. Out of white wine? Use some beer or port or sherry or skip that part altogether.  Sure, you are chained to the stove for 20 minutes of constant stirring but that also means you are forced to drink the white wine you just opened for the rice while you stand there stirring and you really need to take a few minutes to yourself and you know what? You have no choice but to just ignore everyone and stir up a simple pot of rice that slowly morphs into something magical right before your eyes. This is some sorcerous  food alchemy, people. All you really have to do is stir it.




I knew I was going to make risotto ahead of time but I had no idea what kind until I saw these beets at the market. The beets were tiny and adorable and the greens looked so bright. I mean, just look at those pretty pink stalks. Who could resist? I do make a beet risotto but I usually grate the raw beets and stir them into the rice and they cook in there, turning the entire thing bright pink like this but I didn't feel like doing that this time.  Instead, I sauteed the greens separately with some pancetta and precooked the beets as well, only adding them to the top of the finished risotto. I did cook a handful of the stalks in with the rice but they didn't colour the rice at all. The other way is easier and less work but this way is worth the effort.


Beet Risotto

serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side


Ingredients


1 bunch of small beets (approx 5), including greens
Olive oil (approx 3 tbls total)
1 clove garlic, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
50 gram pancetta, chopped
1 leek, chopped, including green part
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine, divided (pinot grigio works well)
about 6 cups chicken stock (if you start running out while you cook, just add a bit of water)
3 tbls pesto
2 tbls butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
a tbls chopped fresh basil per serving


Instructions

Cut the beets off of the stalks. Peel them and slice them into thin coins, about 1/8" thick.
Heat a small pan over med heat and add about a tbls of olive oil when the pan gets nice and hot. Fry the beet coins for a few minutes, adding a pinch of kosher salt and then a bit of water - just enough to coat the bottom of the pan- cover it, lower the heat to med-low and let them steam for about 10 minutes. When they are done a fork should go in easily. Remove them from the pan and set aside.



cut the bottom of the stalks from the part that has leaves on it. Wash those stalks and chop them roughly and set aside. Do the same with the leafy part and set those aside as well.

Heat another pan over med to med high heat and saute the pancetta until it starts getting crispy. Add in the garlic and saute for another minute. Now add in the chopped leafy stalks and saute for about 3-5 minutes, just  until the greens are wilted and just cooked, check for salt and add a pinch as needed, remove to a bowl and set aside.
Put the chicken stock in a pot on a back burner and get it hot, but not quite simmering and keep it like that.
Now to start the risotto. Heat another tbls of olive oil in a deep pan or pot. I use my 5 quart Le Creuset pot. Whatever you use needs to accommodate the finished amount of rice, so keep that in mind. Saute the leeks for about 3 minutes. Throw in those chopped stalks (the bottom part that was closest to the beet) and sauted for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Push all of those solids aside, add one more tbls of olive oil and put the rice in the pot, stirring it around for a couple of minutes, trying to avoid the leeks/stalks as much as you can before finally just mixing it all together and keep stirring that around for another minute. Now pour in 3/4 cup of the wine and stir consistently until it's mostly absorbed. From this point on, you are going to stir pretty much constantly (making a figure 8 is a good plan) and you will keep adding stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring, when it is absorbed, add another ladle, stir etc etc
You will do this for about 20 minutes. You must taste from the 15 minute mark every few minutes to make sure you don't overcook the rice. It should have a nice bite to it but not crunchy but the 20 minutes will bring it to where it needs to be. The odd batch of rice might be ready a couple of minutes earlier or take a couple minutes longer so taste. When you are happy with the texture and think it's done, stir in the pesto and the last 1/4 cup white wine and stir it around for another minute.
Remove the pot from the burner, add in the butter and the parmesan and, with your wooden spoon, stir that in quite vigorously until the butter is melted and it's all nicely incorporated and creamy. Cover the pot and leave it for a minute while you go get your beet coins and the greens you have set aside.
Ladle rice into a shallow bowl and top with a spoonful of beet greens and some of the beet coins, scatter the fresh basil over the top and serve.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Week In Yum April 5-12 Patois, Weslodge, The Beech Tree Pub, Ackroyd's and TheWren

OG Fried Chicken and Pickled Watermelon at the Patios Popup 




spekulas butter pancakes fit for a young king who doesn't have to worry about things like spekulas butter

On Saturday we had one of those days where The Kid got up late, we ran around doing things and suddenly realized it was mid afternoon and nobody had eaten yet (apart from The Kid and his spekulas pancake). Yes, even in this family we often forget to eat. The only solution was to retreat to one of our favourite neighbourhood haunts, The Wren, on the The Danforth. The Kid had the calamari sandwich, just like he has for the last couple of visits and Shack had a burger but I wanted to try something new. I ordered the Green Chili Chicken, which turned out to be a nicely spicy, soupy stew of chicken, onion and mushrooms, topped with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. I wasn't loving the grilled flatbread that came with it and next time I will order it and ask for tortilla chips on the side instead. It was very tasty and very filling so I took half of it home and turned it into lunch burritos for The Kid so we all won. It's the first time we have been there for lunch and it was kind of nice. It wasn't busy at all, we asked if the music could be turned down a bit and it was much more relaxed than eating there at dinner when it's packed and loud. Don't get me wrong, I love that it's always packed and loud and fun but sometimes it's good to just sit and chat and relax. I remain so happy that The Wren exists right here in the east end of the city.

late lunch/early dinner at The Wren





Pimms Cups, Rabbit Arancini and Whipped Brie at The Beech Tree
Because we had such a late lunch, nobody felt much like dinner and suddenly it was almost 7pm and The Kid had to leave to go to work. Nobody rides for free in this house.

That left the adults with an open evening so we took a walk down Kingston Road, hoping to pop in to The Beech Tree Public House at 924 Kingston Rd. Everytime we walk by, hoping to stop in, it's packed and as we all know, Shack doesn't wait in line or for tables, so we always pass it by and go into some blah pub for bad wings and beer and complain about the lack of really nice places in walking distance. Little did we know that right there, a 10 minute walk from our front door was the warmest, most wonderful little restaurant/bar that you could imagine.

This time, when Shack hummed and hawed about it begin full, I insisted we go in and sit at the bar and at least have a cocktail. Thank god I did because not only did we have one of the best Pimm's Cups that I have had since I last visited the Dominion House in Montreal, but we ate two delicious appetizers that just made me want to go back for dinner. First, the bartender. This woman is a serious bartender, mixing every single drink with great care and finesse, using only fresh ingredients, homemade sauces and fruity concoctions and garnishes out of the row of jars of pickled things lining the top shelf behind the bar. You know the bartender is great when we saw her pour, maybe, two or three glasses of wine the entire time because everyone in the restaurant was ordering cocktails. I also love the nice, thoughful touches like adding fresh citrus and herbs to every water bottle. It really makes such a difference and it really isn't asking too much, is it?

We ordered rabbit arancini with mustard aioli and a brie mousse with roasted beets and sunflower seed crumble. The arancini arrived first and they were perfect. A thin, crispy shell that oozed with creamy, cheesy risotto , flecked with tender bunny meat, scraped in a touch of mustard aioli - good god. This is not what I am used to eating here in the Beach.

I was barely recovered from my bunny balls when the brie mousse arrived. I have never had anything quite like it - it was light and airy and creamy - almost like whipped cream but tasting like ripe brie. I think the chef aerates it somehow - all I knew for sure was that this was not the work of a line cook frying up some wings back that. After a bit of poking around the next day I discovered that the chef is Jamie Newman, a former chef at Opus. Now it was all making sense. My only disappointment is that this gem has been hiding away for 5 months and that is 5 months that I could have spent eating there. Don't fret though, I am sure I am going to make up for lost time now that I know it's there. I think that reservations are a must because, as I said, it's always packed. They also serve brunch on Sundays from 11am to 3pm so keep your eye out for my thoughts on that since we will be trying it asap.



On Sunday, we drove out to Tallboys, at 838 Bloor west, to finally experience the offerings of a great young chef and a great friend, Craig Wong. He is finally opening his first restaurant called Patois at 794 Dundas St W in about a month's time. Craig, who is of Jamaican Chinese heritage, spent a number of years in France and the UK working for the likes of Alain Ducasse and Heston Blumenthal, not to mention Toronto's Luma and Canteen.This guy is certainly the real deal. We are very excited for him and for the rest of us, because we are going to enjoy the fruits of his labours while he slaves in his kitchen, thrilling everyone with his kicked up spin on the foods of his youth. He is operating out of Tallboys one more time, this coming weekend, April 13 and 14, from 1pm til closing.



The menu for this popup includes his Jamaican Patty Double Down (my favourite I think), kimchi potstickers which combine his love of asian flavours with his love of Canadian staples like perogies. Who knew that kimchi would go so well with bacon and sour cream? The Chinese Pineapple Bun Burger comes with hickory sticks on it. HICKORY DAMNED STICKS
OG fried chicken with addictive pickled watermelon, McGyver wings, Festival Onion Rings and Cassava Fries round things out.
This weekend is your last chance to try this stuff until the restaurant proper opens up so get down there to Tallboys at 838 Bloor West.
Craig cut the double down into five pieces for us - swiss cheese fondue sauce and bacon just SHUT UP



On Monday night I was one of the lucky food bloggers and journalists who were invited to have dinner at Weslodge to experience their newest Sunday-Monday dinner feature, The Cutting Board. For $29 per person, you get that platter down there - $60 for a veritable meatatarian feast that will leave you in a protein coma - a happy coma but full to the brim with all manner of flesh. Two of us shared crispy fried hen, lamb ribs, duck sausage, dry aged ribeye steak, pulled pork with a heap of cuban coleslaw, an upscale mac and cheese with two tender, flaky jalapeno biscuits. It makes me full just typing that out.

the scotch eggs made very, very happy as did this negroni
Nothing makes me feel more welcome than sitting down to a Negroni and since I was a few minutes late, the drink was literally sitting there, waiting for me ready to say "hey, how's it going?"

I had only time for a few sips and to introduce myself to my table mates when a dish of beautiful scotch eggs was put down. I LOVE a good scotch egg and am pretty thrilled that they seem to be a bit trendy right now because they are everywhere but, like silver shoes, I love them anytime and hoard them when they ARE trendy because I know that their days are numbered. This was a terrific , creamy yolked egg wrapped in a savoury, crunchy chorizo coat sitting on a wee bed of tomato jam. YUM.

By the time the cutting board was plunked down on the table, I was already so happy that when I saw that there was a lamb rib pointing right at me, I may have yelped. You don't see lamb ribs all that often and I don't know why because they are delicious. All of the meat was perfectly cooked - I am getting almost tired of pulled pork (something I didn't think I would ever say) but this pulled pork was so good it made me forget about the mountains of mediocre pulled pork I have eaten in the last year or so. I usually skip the poultry when presented with so much great meat but it did look pretty good so I grabbed a piece, expecting to take a bite just to taste and then toss it aside to make room for more lamb ribs but it was so good that I ate the whole piece. The coating was shatteringly crisp but there was something very sweet and sticky going on in there too and I would happily order myself just the chicken and biscuits on another visit. We were also served a bowl of spatzle with lamb bacon and roasted brussel sprouts but I was too busy eating meat to bother with anything more than a taste of each.

Chef de cuisine, Kanida Chey, came out to answer any questions we might have and told us that he plans to change the contents of the cutting board meal with the seasons. In the summer, expect to see all manner of charcuterie and lighter fare, all made in house of course. I will be honest and admit that I had only been to Weslodge once for a cocktail and it was not a good introduction. We did not have good service that evening and we were all taken aback at the high prices of the cocktails which range between $14 and $18. Personally, I am not ordering a drink that costs as much as an entree but if that is not an issue with you, by all means, drink up. Because of this disappointing first visit, I almost hesitated to attend this menu preview but because I also kept hearing that the food is very good, I decided it deserved a second try and I am very happy I did. The food was terrific and I think at $29/pp it's also really good value. I think that the three of us could eat this platter and be totally satisfied but I forgot to ask how that works if there is three of us. I assume that it would still be $30 each and the platter would be more ample but, to be honest, I would want to eat the platter for two shared between three because it is a lot of food and I think that two of us would probably have trouble eating it all as it is. 
Okay, maybe not, but still.


A serving for two at Weslodge "the cutting board"

welcome back to the Week in Yum, dear sweet Robyn

As fate would have it, Shack wrapped up at work just in time to swing by Weslodge and pick me up. Since it was on the way home,  we stopped in at Boots and Bourbon to meet up and say hi to a gaggle of food bloggers who were wining and dining a visiting blogger from Vancouver. It was a lovely treat to see my long, lost buddy, Robyn of Planet Byn and we got to catch up a little bit. We did not eat this time but everyone was pretty intent on their food with lots of finger licking, lip smacking noises and Shack was seriously coveting the burger that a man at the next table was eating.

stopped by Boots and Bourbon for a cocktail with some Canadian Food Blogger members



So, My April challenge for The Great Canadian Food Experience was to write about a Canadian producer of some sort. I considered writing about a couple of local farms but had trouble connecting with them so, instead, I wrote about Walter Caesar, a small Canadian company that I love. Walter makes an all natural, craft caesar mix that I really, truly adore. When they sent me some product to try a while back, I chose to cook with it and made my cabbage rolls using Walter in place of tomato juice with great success. I needed another recipe to use in this write up and I couldn't just reuse that one but I put it off for days and days so that the deadline came to publish the post and I was still without a recipe. I asked Walter to provide me with a drink recipe and photo and I was going to just use that when I realized that, as a food blogger, that is soooooooooooo damned lazy that I was already embarassed by the very thought of it. 

Instead, I did what any self respecting food blogger would do. I woke up early in the morning and started making cocktails. For a while now I had been toying with the idea of using Pisco, a Peruvian brandy, to make a Peruvian Caesar to honour my MVP (most valuable Peruvians) friends. After a few batches, I got it where I wanted it, I photographed it and thought "I really want to make another one"
It was now 10 am and I had been taste testing caesars for two hours on an empty stomach.

There was a recipe that I had my eye on where a guy strained tomato juice to extract a clear, thin tomato water and he used that to make a martini like cocktail. It looked very intriguing indeed and so I set out to strain some Walter and spent another hour perfecting this one, I photographed it and finished my blog post.

By now, it was noon, I was buzzed from tasting drinks all morning and I still had not eaten unless you count the pickled green bean and the pickle garnish. By my calculations, if I drank a bottle of water and went back to bed for a nap, I could work through the hangover cycle by 5pm and feel fit as a fiddle by dinner.
So that is what I did.


We wrapped up the week by getting take out from a new to me Beach Fish and Chip Shop, Ackroyd's. I am part of a facebook group that is working to support local businesses and encourage my reluctant neighbours to get out there and eat and shop local. For some reason, people in the Beach tend to not be as supportive of the businesses that line their streets as in other areas. We have watched east end neighbourhoods like Leslieville and sections of the Danforth start to completely revitalize themselves with the support of the residents. Five years ago, I wouldn't dream of walking up to my strip of the Danforth for dinner or a night out but now we have The Wren, Sauce, Morgans and other wonderful, small businesses opening up. These places are packed all the time, mainly with patrons who have walked there from their homes. The Beach, on the other hand, tends to be packed from the minute the weather hits 17C until it cools down again in the fall, but it's mainly tourists and people travelling TO the neighbourhood. Once the weather cools off and the tourist trade dies down, business trails off and we all wait to see which new stores and restaurants will shutter their doors by January. Over the almost two decades that I have lived here, I have been saddened to see that, more and more, as each storefront is shuttered, too many are remaining closed up, giving our once vibrant high street, a depressing, derelict aroma.

Okay, enough lecturing. I am trying my best to walk the walk and so I am going to make it my mission to shop or eat at at least one new local establishment every week and I will then pass it along. This week, the featured restaurant is Ackroyd's Fish n Chips at 2222 Queen East, just next to Xola , a great Mexican spot and two doors from a Beach institution, Ed's Real Scoop.

This week they are offering a 20% discount to orders for four or more so my four halibut dinners earned me a nice chunk of savings that I was not expecting, so I was already predisposed to like the place. I also grabbed a lobster mac and cheese as that was the daily special.

The good news and the not so good news. The good news is that all four of us really enjoyed our fish and chips. Our orders of "The Balmy" contained a really big chunk of fish that was not over battered and was still crispy, despite the 15 minutes it spent in the cardboard box while being transported home. Hand cut fries were plentiful and crispy and the tartar sauce was actually tart for once - both The Neighbour and I don't like our tartar sauce to be sweet, as it often is. The coleslaw was neither here nor there but that isn't a big draw for me anyway. I am pretty sure I didn't get a kosher dill either but I am just noticing that now while I write this. Oh, it was also more expensive than the menu listed on their facebook page but even at $14.50 each, I thought it was reasonably priced - on the lower end of the scale is "The Sustainable" which is the same meal but with basa for $8.95. The bottom line is that we will most definitely be back for fish n chips and it looks like they have good lunch specials too.

The not so great news was that although the lobster mac and cheese was not bad, it was not something I would pay $10 for again. It didn't feel like all that much lobster and it was just okay for us. I might try other specials again but , for the most part, we will stick to the very good fish and chips.
that is a nice, big chunk of fish right there









Pin of the week:  i am all over these things right now

Facebook share of the week: I don't even bake cakes but i love this

Instagram of the week: so pretty, no?

Tweet of the week: 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Great Canadian Food Experience - My Canadian Producer is Walter Caesar



The only thing more Canadian than clamato juice is maybe beaver tails, Molson Canadian and maple syrup even though up until now, Clamato juice automatically has meant  US based Mott's Clamato Juice. When you go to the States and try to order a bloody Caesar, you tell them it's basically a bloody mary but with clamato juice instead of tomato. Then, you have to explain what clamato juice is and then the groans and gags start. CLAM JUICE???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Week In Yum March 29-April 4 Trader Joe's, Lamesa, Boots and Bourbon and Tabule

a million tulips from my friend, PJ


Saturday was my birthday. Not just any birthday either because on Saturday, I turned 50 for god's sake. FIFTY
birthday gifts and my beloved Neighours decorated my door
There I am, sitting at the half century mark and how do I choose to celebrate? Do I go for a huge party where we gather all of my friends, past and present and drink champagne till the sun comes up? Do I demand to be flown to NYC so that I can be standing on the top of the Empire State Building at the stroke of midnight and howl into the wind "YOU KNOW NOTHING JOHN SNOW!"

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mexico and Greece Had a Baby and It's Called Chili Verde Pastitsio


In conjunction with my Misura giveaway, I was given the task of coming up with a recipe featuring some of their products. As soon as I saw this sedani pasta, I knew what I wanted to make immediately and so they sent me some pasta and a bag of whole wheat rusks, which are perfect for bread crumb making. Back when I first started blogging, one of my first dishes was a chili verde lasagna. One  of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to participate in my friend's month long lasagna challenge. Jen, from Piccante Dolce, was hosting this challenge and she encouraged me to start food blogging so I took that opportunity to try the whole thing out back in November of 2010. Clearly, it worked out well because here I am, carrying the torch, although Jen has taken some time off to start a family. The other dish I made for this challenge was pastitsio, which is kind of like Greek lasagna. For years I have been toying with the idea of doing a bunch of fusion style pastitsios but I just never get around to it. I really like the construction of the dish but I don't love the flavours of the traditional version. Sometimes you just need a push to force you to do things.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The WIndup Bird Cafe - Much More Than Just a Restaurant



After taking The Kid to his high school for afternoon parent teacher meetings, I left the east end and ventured back out to attend the media launch for The Windup Bird Cafe at 382 College St, just west of Caplansky's. Even though this area of the city is my old stomping grounds, I couldn't picture where the restaurant was in my head and as I walked up to it, I almost walked right by. I realized that I could not, for the life of me, recall what had been in the space previously. All I knew was that whatever resided at this address before was NEVER this bright, cheerful and warm. Once inside, my table mates and I wracked our brains in an attempt to recall any of the actual businesses that might have occupied this spot and all we could remember were fuzzy recollections of sketchy coffee shops and eateries of unknown origin. This place is something new and fresh, more than just a place to grab a bite and I am looking forward to watching where they take it over time. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Week In Yum march 22-28 The Windup Bird Cafe, The County Cocktailand A Crap Tonne of Lentils


The Windup Bird Cafe


This has been another fun filled week of food and adventures what with three restaurant visits on Tuesday alone. I lunched at The County Cocktail, supped at The Windup Bird Cafe and joined the boys for a late night negroni at The Wren before coming home to bed. If you add in all of the lentil recipe testing, it was a full week of eating new things and man, am I stuffed.

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