Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Most Amazing Lasagna-Labour-Of-Love

As you may have guessed based on the title of this post, this lasagna is not a quick one. It requires several hours of your time. But I promise you - if you follow all the steps, you will have a lasagna that will make people swoon. Maybe even cry. But they definitely won't be hungry. You can definitely make it over a couple days if you can't afford to slave (for love) in the kitchen for a 1/2 day. If you do want to break it up, make the bolognese in advance. The rest, do day-of. If you're ready to be blown away by a meal, read-on:

Gruyere, Thyme and Rosemary Biscuits

As I've said before, it's not often the urge to bake strikes me. But on this Easter weekend, it did. I love bread - of any kind. Croissants. Bagels. Brioche. Baguette. Scones. Sourdough. Anddddd ... biscuits. Because I don't have a lot of patience for the multi-step process often associated with baking, I set out to find a simple biscuit recipe - and then made some modifications. Baking is a pretty precise practice, so I didn't muck with things too much. I suggest you don't, either. Here, the recipe (with my guesstimate additions):

Sunday, November 18, 2012

TRC's Pop-Up Dinner with Fidel Gastro

Photo credit: Kyla Zanardi (thanks, Kyla!)
TRC's dinner with Fidel Gastro was definitely a new experience for the group. First, it wasn't at a restaurant. Second, our chef was accustomed to cooking 'extremo' sandwiches on a food truck at lightning speed, not 6-course meals for 25 guests over 4 hours. Third, we were being taped for Fidel Gastro's (aka Matt Basile) upcoming TV show, Rebel Without a Kitchen (Travel + Escape, Spring 2013, channel 267). Add it all up, and it equaled one super-fun night with old and new friends, and one delicious delicious menu of elegant street food.

How I came to get in touch with Matt was as a result of a dinner party with friends Stephanie and Glen; Glen knew Matt and spoke about how Matt had followed his passion for food, leaving the advertising industry as a writer. Being in the ad industry myself, and also having a passion for food, I envied the path he'd crafted for himself. I thought, "this guy sounds cool ... maybe he'd be interested in doing a special truck food event for TRC?" And so I contacted Matt. Not only was he interested, he had a great suggestion for how to take my idea and build on it to make it even better. About 5 weeks after our initial conversation, "TRC does Fidel Gastro at Loft 404" became a reality.

Our event took place at Loft 404 - The Ambrosia Hub. It's a space I hadn't heard of before, but Matt suggested it was an eclectic spot that would work for our event, and so I trusted he was right and it was booked. Eclectic is definitely the right word to describe it. It's a labyrinth of rooms, each decorated with local artist's works, a hodge-podge of furniture, and random nicknacks. The charm of it added to the event quite nicely.

Kicking it off the first of 6 courses was a deep fried cheeseburger with tomato jam and a quail egg over rare beef tenderloin with grainy mustard. Both were a huge hit. The tenderloin was seasoned beautifully and meltingly tender, while the quail egg was cooked perfectly and accompanied well by the sharp mustard. The cheeseburger elicited responses from TRCers like, "eye-rolling yummy!" and "really? Do I need to say anything more?!". The cheese had seeped from some diners' burgers (mine included), and the cheese selection could have ventured into something a little sharper, but all in all we were a very happy bunch.
Deep Fried Cheeseburger and Tenderloin with Quail Egg
The second course was a kimchi cesar soup. The diners appreciated the clam and Matt's innovative take on the classic Caesar drink, turning it into a soup and substituting celery for home-made kimchi. The added touch of rimming the bowl with a seasoned salt was not lost on us. Unfortunately, most diners found the soup just too spicy to finish. Despite the heat, the complexity of flavour of this dish was incredible. For those of us (myself included) who appreciate a little sweat on your brow while eating, Matt had another home run. As one diner put it, "Very tasty, but not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach. Loved it."
Photo credit: Kyla Zanardi
Our third course was roasted whole whiting with mushroom, chow mein and asparagus 'coleslaw'. This was by far the most polarizing dish amongst the group. For one diner, it was their favourite dish of the night. For another, it was too fishy, bony, and the salad too acidic. What everyone could agree on, however, was the presentation was impressive.
Roasted Whole Whiting
Course #4 were bison tempura pogos with red wine and cranberry relish. Thankfully many TRCers are meat-lovers, so to put deep fried meat on a stick in front of them was the equivalent of Santa bringing you all you wanted on Christmas morning. The tempura batter was light and crispy, while the cranberry relish was a perfect balance to the slightly gamey (in a good way) bison. I found the bison sausage to be a tad large, but I would have been the minority in that sentiment.
Photo Credit: Kyla Zanardi
Our final dish before dessert was the "big pig taco". The presentation was extraordinary - a whole baby pig, carted out and carved up before us! For the pig lovers-not-eaters, it was a little too real to be comfortable, but for the carnivores among us, it was delight. Pork can be easy to make dry, but Matt succeeded in keeping the moisture while attaining a perfectly crispy skin. The accompaniments - chimicurri sauce, apple slaw, and avocado aioli - rounded out the flavours and made for a lovely combination of crunchy and soft. For those who didn't eat pork, Matt prepared an insanely delicious pulled turkey filling. I actually enjoyed the turkey more than the pork, simply due to the bold flavours and creamy/saucy texture. I'm not sure of all the ingredients, but I'm pretty sure magic was one of them.
Photo Credit: Kyla Zanardi
Photo Credit: Kyla Zanardi
Finally, we ended off our meal with what I consider to be a great street food take on dessert: peanut butter, banana and bacon grilled cheese sandwiches. It was a toast to Elvis, and The King would have been proud. By this point, everyone was quite full but that didn't stop the oooh-ing and ahhh-ing. As one TRCer put it, "it's over the top, in a good way". Perfect way to describe it.
Photo Credit: Kyla Zanardi
All in all, we had a magnificent time. I was thankful for the generosity of Steam Whistle for providing us 3 cases of beer for the event, to Matt for agreeing to cook a stupendous meal for us, to his team for their great service and hospitality, and to the film crew from General Purpose Pictures for making us feel totally comfortable while filming. What I'm most thankful for, though, are The Restaurant Club members. Those who came out - whether for their first time or their 8th time - to support yet another TRC event; for filling the room with laughter and good conversation, for providing me their feedback, and for being great friends. None of these events would happen if it weren't for your support, so thank you.

Oh, and one more thing ... Olé!

Monday, April 16, 2012

TRC does Keriwa Café

My first experience with Keriwa Cafe as at Picnic at Brickworks in October of 2011. I'd heard good things of this Aboriginal-inspired restaurant, so was delighted when I happened upon their table at Brickworks. Their single morsel of bear meat with blueberry compote (I don't recall the specifics of the amuse bouche beyond these 2 ingredients) had me swooning, and eager to get out to give them a try. Fast-forward almost 5 months later, at the friendly nudging of friend and TRC'er Rob, The Restaurant Club gathered once again, this time at 1690 Queen Street West - aka, home of Keriwa Cafe.

Upon entering the smallish restaurant, you immediately get a feeling of the outdoors - but in a slightly polished, art directed way. It's a warm and welcoming space, where wood is the hero and the staff are happy to see you. 

Our group of 5 started off strong with appetizers of mushroom salad with poached egg, confit of pork belly, and bison pemmican pasta. The mushroom salad was served cold - not exactly what I expected - and though I personally didn't love the pickled flavour of the mushrooms with the cold poached egg, two other TRC'ers had the dish and both loved it (one couldn't have eggs so didn't have the experience of cold yolk on the plate to react to), enjoying how the flavours came together, and particularly appreciating the red fife croutons. Side note: the red fife bread that came to the table prior to our meal was excellent, as was the cinnamon bun our server provided us to take home at the end of the night ... a delicious treat and a very nice touch. 
Mushroom Salad with Poached Egg
The pork belly was a real hit, too - the pork was perfectly cooked; crisp but moist, the fat rendered just enough, warm and melty (what? it's a word) in your mouth. Though you wouldn't expect a carrier to be the star, the bread 'pocket' in which you assemble the pork was incredible ... soft on the inside a touch crispy and salty on the outside. The accompanying coleslaw pulled it all together and brought the crunch and acidity this dish needed.

The bison pasta (which I had as a main; another had as a starter) was a perfect balance of ingredients. The pasta was silky and light, the bison tender, moist and flavourful. It was a rich dish, but the portion size was perfect to have you feeling satisfied without being stuffed. 
Bison Pemmican Pasta
Next came our mains: pork shoulder with beets, venison, braised bison, smoked whitefish, plus another round of bison pemmican pasta and pork belly. First main review: the pork shoulder. According to fellow TRC'er, "freakin delicious" and "rocked my world" were used to describe the dish. I have to concur. The pork was incredibly tender and flavourful; the molasses and beets worked very well together, and the crunch of walnuts made the dish texturally sing.
Pork Shoulder with Beets
The venison was the evening's special - and special it was. It was perfectly cooked to medium rare making it meltingly tender - no small feat for this lean game. The veg accompaniments paled in comparison to the meat, however were [somewhat] forgiven on account of the magnificent meat (side note: I believe the berries were bullberry but I can't recall - either way, they were a lovely punctuation to the dish). 
The smoked whitefish - which looked much prettier than my sorry photo below - was not only a beautiful presentation, but a beautiful compilation of flavours. The pickled beets were a nice complement to the delicately smoked fish. Our TRC'er loved the caviar crackling, likening it to 'little meringues'. The harmony of sweet, acid, crunch, acidy and creaminess made this a real hit, and the envy of those who failed to order it. 
Smoked Whitefish
Last main of the group: the bison brisket. It was cooked just right - again, not easy given it's also a lean meat; the sunchoke puree was a pleasant accompaniment, however the barley 'risotto' left something to be desired - perhaps better seasoning or another ingredient to juxtapose it from the rapini and the bullberry sauce.
Bison Brisket
Finally, two brave souls had room in their bellies for the chocolate cake dessert. Both enjoyed the dish, but found the cake to be on the dry side (I concur). The fruit-chocolate mousse center to the cake was a nice surprise; more clever than the typical coulis topping. Beyond the moistness, the dish could have been improved by serving the cake warm, however overall everyone agreed: lovely presentation, good flavour combinations, and for chocolate lovers – total satisfaction. 
Chocolate Cake
All in all, it was unanimous: TRC'ers voted Keriwa Cafe an excellent restaurant they'd recommend to friends and visit again. The service wasn't overly speedy or attentive, but our server was uber-friendly and the food superb. Oh, and on top of the surprise free Red Fife cinnamon bun to take home, we also received some complimentary chocolate truffles - OMG is all I have to say. Their menu changes monthly and all the food is seasonal ... all the more reason to frequent it often. Happy dining, friends!
Keriwa Cafe | 1690 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M6R 1B3
T: 416.533.2552

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Curried Deviled Eggs

So satisfying is that one or two-bite morself of silky, cool, creamy goodness that is a deviled egg. They are the perfect party mate ... the one nearly everyone grabs for, the one that doesn't break the budget, and the one that's stood the test of time, happily showing up on plates and never considered passé. The deviled egg is infinitely customizable and perfect no matter the time of year. So get on with it, and make some deviled eggs!