I recently attended a garden party in a downtown Toronto courtyard to toast the relaunch of The Wine Establishment’s new showroom and cellar design centre — the venerable outfit has been the leading wine accessories and wine cellar purveyors in Canada for two decades. Partnering with Veuve Clicquot/Krug, The Wine Establishment treated guests to a swish event complete with a welcome toast featuring the sabering of a magnum of Krug Grande Cuveé. This was followed by non-stop toasting with Krug and Veuve, poured from bottles opened with champagne sabres (a cavalry sword with a curved edge) flown in from France.
Laird Kay is the Director of Architectural Services at The Wine Establishment, and he designs and builds complete wine environments for collectors with 500 to 35,000 prized bottles. As we stood under a gorgeously green plane tree, holding Riedel’s brand new toasting flutes filled with sparkly Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label, Kay outlined the purpose behind his multifaceted company. "We’re trying to demystify the whole wine experience,” he explains.
To that end, the staff offers up detailed information without being patronizing — which is more difficult than it sounds! As Kay says, “It can be something as simple as telling people to sit on their reds [in a climate-controlled environment] for a few years if they want to enjoy them even more.” One of the latest wine trends involves bringing the cellar out of the basement and putting it on show. “We’re building more wine cellars adjacent to dining and living rooms — as a backdrop to entertaining spaces,” he explains.
I continued to wander the grassy grounds, chatting with party-goers while munching on tasty bites such as Parmesan crisps topped with goat cheese (recipe below). The event was catered by chef Paul Boehmer of the new Ossington restaurant, Böhmer. As I was grazing, Kay informed me I was next up for sabering. I had noticed the fun going on as other guests practiced the age-old tradition of using a sabre to pop the glass top off of a champagne bottle, and it looked easy enough to do. (Apparently, this is how Napoleon did it in the field.)
And so, I gracefully stepped up to the plate to learn how to sabre my own bottle of champagne, under the tutelage of Marcel Bregstein of the Toronto Hunt. And this is what happened:
1. I swear, I was doing everything he told me to do. But the bottle seemed to be made of superhuman glass. It would not break. I could show you fifty photos that look just like this one.
2. Most people got it in one or two tries. I think I was up to twenty before the top finally burst off. By that time, a sizable crowd had gathered. (Most of them were on the grass facing me. So much worse than it looks here.)
3. A roar of cheers and high fives erupted all around. Still, I made a silent pledge to start working on my upper body strength.
4. Slightly humiliating? Yes. But to the victor goes the spoils. I had some Veuve Clicquot to drink.
See more champagne-based cocktail recipes.
Grana Padano Parmesan, finely grated (approximately 2" in diameter and 1/8" thick, or desired size)
300 mL whipping cream (35%)
Goat cheese, crumbled
Desired seasonings (herbs, shallots, salt, pepper)
Step 1: Fill a silicone baking sheet with small heaps of finely grated Grano Padano Parmesan.
Step 2: Press each heap down with your fingers to flatten it slightly.
Step 3: Bake at 350°F until golden brown and bubbling (approximately 5 minutes, but watch closely). Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Goat Cheese Mousse
Step 1: Whip cream into soft peaks.
Step 2: Fold into crumbled goat cheese. Add desired seasonings to taste.
Step 3: Pipe onto cooled Parmesan crisps and serve.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a 7th anniversary party for the Calphalon shop and culinary studio just down the street from our Toronto office on King Street. There were chefs cooking up tasty little bites at cooktop stations, including offerings like juicy lamb chops, grilled mini pizzas, seared salmon with fruit salsa and tasty Asian-inspired shrimp skewers. But what intrigued me most — as should be the case at a Calphalon cookware showroom — were the pans themselves.
Calphalon’s new line of Unison Non-stick pots and pans claim to offer up professional results, minus the sticky situations that can come with professional-grade stainless steel and aluminum cookware. Made from hard anodized aluminum with non-stick interiors, the line also features tempered-glass covers with stay-cool, ergonomic handles. They’re also oven safe up to 500°F.
What I found particularly unique is that the Unison line is divided into two sub lines: Both are non-stick, but one is called Slide Non-stick, while the other is Sear Non-stick. Each sub line has vessels assigned to it that suit the culinary task at hand. For instance, the 10” omelette pan has the slide non-stick finish, meaning your fried eggs should slide around in there like an air hockey puck. Meanwhile, in the sear non-stick category, you’ve got a 13” flat-bottomed wok, sauté pans and the 12” grill pan, perfect for non-stick fish, steak and perhaps even some tasty grilled shrimp like the ones in the Calphalon recipe below. Enjoy!
Featured cookware: Calphalon Unison Grill Pan & Infused Anodized 8” Fry Pan
20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Thai chilies, finely chopped
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and fresh pepper
Vinaigrette & Noodle Salad
2/3 cup rice wine or dry sherry
1 tsp brown or palm sugar
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 clove of garlic, puréed
1 tsp ginger, finely grated
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 package vermicelli rice noodles, presoaked and drained
2 tbsp freshly chopped cilantro
2 green onions, finely sliced on bias
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 red pepper, seeded and julienned
Step 1: In a bowl, add shrimp, garlic, chilies, cilantro and parsley and 1 tbsp olive oil. Toss and marinate for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 2: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick grill pan over medium heat.
Step 3: Add shrimp to grill and cook for 1 minute per side or until shrimps are done through.
Step 4: Remove shrimp and serve immediately with glass noodle salad.
Vinaigrette & Noodle Salad
Step 1: In an 8” fry pan, heat rice wine. Once simmering, add sugar, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, ginger and vegetable oil.
Step 2: Remove from heat and toss with noodles.
Step 3: Garnish salad with fresh cilantro leaves, green onions, carrot, red pepper and grilled shrimp.
For more delicious shrimp recipes, see our 15 Zesty Shrimp Recipes.
I always say that three makes a trend — or two in a pinch. So, these three new books tell me that books based on blogs are officially a hot new trend.
There are a lot of bad things about the Internet, but a lot of great things too, and the 1000awesomethings website is one of the best. Neil Pasricha started a blog (which at last count had 15 million hits), about life’s mundane-yet-often-uplifting perks. He wrote them down and accompanied them with short, personal stories, many of which are hilarious. I’m guessing that after a million or so hits, the publishing world took note, because now Pasricha’s got a new book called The Book of Awesome (2010 Penguin).
And you know what? It really is. I’m mentioning it here because it’s got a bunch of food-related entries, such as “Talking about how much the meal you’re eating at home would cost in a restaurant,” “Really, really old Tupperware,” “Bakery air” and “Perfectly popped microwave popcorn.” But it’s the page-long tales that really make this book sing. I laughed out loud on a café patio when I cracked the spine for the first time. I usually never laugh out loud at books — I’m very discerning — and especially not in public.
Next up is Orangette’s book, A Homemade Life (2009 Simon & Schuster). I probably don’t need to tell you about one of the Internet’s most popular and successful food bloggers, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. Hers is the fairytale story of an early adopter. She launched Orangette in 2004, met her husband through her blog, secured a regular food column in Bon Appetit magazine based on her lovely writing voice, photos and recipes, opened a restaurant with her husband, and then launched a bestselling cookbook. In other words, I hate her. (Kidding!) Her book, like her blog, offers much inspiration through stories and excellent recipes. Many of the dishes boast modern twists, such as banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger, or little corn cakes with bacon, tomato and avocado. Yum.
Finally, Poor Girl Gourmet (2010 Andrews McMeel Publishing), which just landed on my desk last week. This book is clean and easy to follow, with a scattering of colour photos of say, the brown sugar chocolate chip cookies you’re definitely going to make, as well as their estimated food cost (the recipe makes 24 cookies for $5 or less, or 13 cents a cookie — in US pennies). It's based on the blog, poorgirlgourmet.blogspot.com, which writer and food lover Amy McCoy created once the recession hit and her freelance work dried up.
It’s about making good food for less; basics like soups and salads and entrées composed of chicken thighs and pasta, from honey balsamic chicken thighs to butternut squash ravioli in a maple cream sauce. There’s also a desserts chapter and useful info about value wines. So, who is this book aimed at (besides chicken thigh and pasta lovers)? The ingredients lists are short, while the recipe methods are long, so every last detail is accounted for with no missteps. I think it’s a great book for beginner cooks with gourmet tastes. Especially those who like to entertain but aren’t exactly rolling in the dough — though the butterhorns recipe, a great depression-era suppertime roll, could help with that (at 13 cents per butterhorn).
For now though, here’s a cheap and cheerful chicken dish from Poor Girl Gourmet for tonight’s dinner:
Estimated cost for four: $6.67
4 chicken legs, approximately 3/4 lb. each
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbsp fresh
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 lb. good quality olives, such as Kalamata or Castelvetrano, unpitted
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Step 2: In a large baking dish or lasagna pan, arrange the chicken legs in a single layer, skin side up. Using a basting brush or your hands — your hands are the best tools you have, remember — lightly coat the skin with the olive oil. Sprinkle the legs with thyme, and season them with salt and pepper.
Step 3: Scatter the olives around the chicken such that they have their own space in which to live. It is okay if a few olives reside in the fold of a leg, but you do want to try to get the majority of them onto their own space in the baking dish so that they are marinated with the chicken fat as they cook.
Step 4: Roast the chicken until the skin is crispy and juices run clear when the legs are pierced, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Serve each leg with 1/4 of the olives per person, even to the olive haters, for they need to taste and then find themselves transformed to olive lovers, or at least roasted olive lovers. Be certain to remind your dinner companions that the olives are not pitted, so that no one loses a tooth. That’s no way to start a meal, or inspire a love of roasted olives.
For more great websites and blogs, see our Food Sites We Like page.
I’m on a new supermarket kick: Each time I visit the produce section, I bring something home that normally wouldn’t make it into my shopping cart. Today, it was rhubarb’s turn to shine, since I couldn’t resist the long pink and green stalks, sitting there looking like my favourite old Lacoste T-shirt from the ‘80s.
Rhubarb is something you have to cook — you can’t eat it raw. That’s why you always see it starring in all sorts of crumbles and bumbles and strawberry-rhubarb pies. But it was way too hot out to bake when I brought my rhubarb home, and I didn’t want to start a whole production with ovens and flour and butter. Still, I figured I could manage a bit of chopping and a pot on the stove for a little while, so I decided to make a quick compote to spoon over my morning yogurt.
All I did was wash and chop three big stalks of fresh Ontario rhubarb, making sure to discard the leaves, as they are poisonous. Then I threw the chopped rhubarb into a medium-sized saucepan along with some lemon juice, brown sugar, a pinch of salt and a dribble of pure vanilla extract. I tossed everything together in the pot and then let it cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes until the rhubarb was completely soft and the mixture looked kind of compotey. Then I let it cool, whereupon it thickened some more.
The taste? Tart and sweet and truly delicious, though I have to wonder if it would have been slightly more blush-coloured if I had used white sugar instead of brown. But then I thought again, and figured that even if white sugar would have maybe made for a slightly prettier compote, I think brown sugar makes for a tastier one. Next time I’m going to try throwing some springtime strawberries in there, too. Give this recipe a try, and let me know what you think.
(makes about 2 cups)
4 cups fresh chopped rhubarb
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Step 1: Toss all ingredients together in a medium pot, then cook, stirring every so often, for about 20 minutes, or until rhubarb has completely cooked down and the mixture looks saucy. Serve over yogurt or ice cream.
See more rhubarb crumbles, turnovers and drinks.
You’re about to see a whole lot more of Toronto chef/restaurateur Mark McEwan in the months ahead. Not only because he’s taking on the Tom Colicchio role and becoming lead judge on Top Chef Canada, which starts shooting in Toronto this summer, but also because he's opening a new rustic Italian restaurant in August called Fabbrica. This promises to be a “highly authentic” Italian restaurant — from its Italian-sourced ingredients right down to its wood-burning oven. Fabbrica will be located in the Shops at Don Mills, right across the lane from McEwan Foods, the chef’s eponymous mecca for gourmet provisions.
McEwan says his measuring stick of success (in terms of authenticity) for the new restaurant will be Toronto’s Italian grandmas (a.k.a. the best Italian cooks in the city). “If I’m not doing it right, they’ll let me know,” he says. Executive chef Rob LeClair, who has served as sous chef at two McEwan restaurants, will be manning the stoves and pizza oven at Fabbrica, where, besides the ‘za, other menu highlights will include whole roasted fish in the wood-burning oven, handmade pastas and house-cured salami.
After August comes September, and that’s when Mark McEwan’s first cookbook, Great Food at Home (2010 Penguin Group Canada) hits store shelves. It will feature a greatest hits list from his three restaurants (Bymark, North 44 and One). Chef McEwan was serving some of these dishes in miniature form at the Indigo Books sneak peek “Fall Story” event I attended last week (above). We’re talking gravlax with citrus blinis, foie gras terrine with rhubarb compote, and butternut squash ravioli with browned butter and crisp sage, plus sweet pea risotto with lake perch (also pictured above).
We’ll have to wait for those recipes until the cookbook comes out (can’t wait!), but for now, here’s a simply perfect pasta dish from McEwan Foods:
1 lb. fusilli pasta
2 tbsp grape seed oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 lb. San Marzano tomatoes, peeled
15 fresh basil leaves, julienned
2 tbsp coarse salt
1/2 tbsp fresh black pepper
1 lb. mozzarella di bufala, cut into 1/2” cubes
Grated Parmesan (optional)
Step 1: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and then add fusilli. Cook to desired doneness (al dente is recommended).
Step 2: To a large skillet on high heat, add both the grape seed oil and garlic. Break up tomatoes and squeeze directly into the skillet after garlic has started turning golden (about one minute). Add the basil, salt and pepper, bring to a boil and then lower to medium heat.
Step 3: Once pasta is cooked, evenly distribute mozzarella into the sauce. Drain water from pasta and add pasta to sauce in skillet. Continue to mix sauce and mozzarella until the mozzarella is completely melted. Top with grated Parmesan, if desired.
For another delicious pasta, watch Lynda Reeves prepare a whole wheat spaghetti recipe on our Online TV show.