Author Archive

Spaghetti Pomodoro

August 14, 2013


It’s tomato season, which means you really have no excuse to turn to canned or jarred tomato sauce when you can create something much fresher and tastier out of your garden or local fruit & vegetable market.

This recipe is one of several that Cari and I have stolen from a cookbook my mother-in-law has at home.  Its greatness lies in its simplicity… fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, a little bit of seasoning and that’s it.  We’ve made it with spaghetti and linguini, both of which are immensely satisfying.  Generally Cari and I both prefer tomato sauces that are chunky and resemble real tomatoes, rather than the liquefied form.

Here’s the recipe:

Spaghetti Pomodoro

1 lb dried, store-bought spaghetti (though we have also made it from scratch for this recipe)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic
2 lbs fresh ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn by hand into 1/2 inch pieces
pinch of red pepper flakes

1. Put all but 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and all the garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle.

2. Add the tomatoes as soon as the garlic begins to change colour.  When the liquid begins to reduce, season with salt.  Continue cooking over a medium-high heat until the tomatoes have reduced and separated from the oil: 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the skillet.

3. While the sauce is cooking, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan or pot.

4. When the sauce has reduced, add the torn basil leaves and the pinch of red pepper flakes.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

5. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water in the saucepan.  Drop in the pasta, stirring until the strands are submerged.  When cooking al dente, drain and toss with the sauce in the skillet, adding the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Taste for salt and serve at once.

Homemade Blueberry Vanilla Soda

July 28, 2013

blueberrysodaI love the Sodastream I got for my birthday.  Satisfying my cravings for sparkling water, I can magically turn still water from the tap into some bubbly goodness any time I want.  What I don’t like are the syrups that came with the product.  They’re overly sweet for my tastes and just don’t fit the bill as far as I’m concerned.

The good news is that nature allows for a world of fresh & tasty ingredients that make interesting soda concoctions.  My first attempt at one of these homemade sodas was this homemade blueberry vanilla soda, which I made for a recent barbecue with friends.  To be honest, I suspect you could use any combination of fruit combined with sugar & lemon juice for similar results.  In place of vanilla, you could add maple syrup, honey, or leave it out entirely.

Blueberry Vanilla Soda

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
9 tablespoons lemon juice
Splash of vanilla paste (or extract)

1. Combine all ingredients into a small pot and mix.

2. Heat over medium heat for at least 20 minutes, or until the mixture foams and blueberries collapse.

3. Cool the mixture.  As soon as it’s at a good temperature to stick in the fridge, do it.

4. Once cool, add syrup to sparkling water.  If you don’t have a Sodastream, you could use Perrier, club soda or any other sparkling water you may happen to have on hand.  Add as little or as much as you’d like… I happen to like a lightly flavoured soda, but you may prefer yours on the sweeter side.

A note: Make sure you don’t overdo it on your cooking or sitting time.  I tried to make a variation of this recipe with black currants but made the mistake of leaving it on the stove for too long.  The result was more of a jam than a syrup.

Mediterranean Pepper Salad, two ways

July 22, 2013

Mediterranean Pepper Salad

Well, it’s barbecue season and Cari and I are always looking for alternatives to the standard summer salads.  This refreshing take on a Greek Salad comes to us by way of the brilliant Smitten Kitchen.  It uses many of the ingredients common to your everyday Greek salad (feta, red onion, cucumbers, kalamata olives), but because it uses an assortment of bell peppers in place of tomatoes, it won’t get soggy!  The brilliance of this dish is not only it’s deliciousness, but also the fact that you can make a relatively large batch and keep it for several days.  We’ll often make it to have with barbecue and then use it as a side for future dinners, or even as a standalone lunch.

When planning out a barbecue menu for my father’s birthday, we found ourselves in a bit of a conundrum.  We really wanted to serve this, but my Dad keeps kosher.  That means no mixing of meat and dairy.  We felt we needed something to replace the feta, but weren’t sure what.  That’s when we remembered a trick we learned from our collection of Moosewood cookbooks.  A lemon-herb tofu actually pairs quite nicely with the flavours of Greek salad!  So, either make the Smitten Kitchen version or our dairy-free take on the recipe.  Both are delicious.

Mediterranean Pepper Salad (recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 a red onion, diced
3 bell peppers (the more colours you use, the nicer it looks – we once made a double batch and used green, red, orange, yellow and purple.  It looked glorious)
1 english cucumber
1/4-pound firm feta cheese (of lemon-herb tofu, see recipe below)
1/4 to 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (save yourself the grief and buy them pre-pitted)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

First, marinate the red onion.  Mix the red wine vinegar, water, kosher salt and sugar in a small bowl until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Add the red onion and set it aside.

Next, chop the vegetables.  Core and seed your bell peppers and chop them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the cucumber and feta (or tofu) into similarly-sized chunks. Put your peppers, cucumber, feta (or tofu) and olives in a large bowl.

By now, your onions will have lightly pickled, which makes for a unique and nice flavour. Drain them and add them to the other vegetables in the large bowl, but reserve the vinegar mixture. Pour a quarter cup of the vinegar mixture over the salad, then drizzle with olive oil. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste. Toss evenly and serve at once, or let the flavors muddle together in the fridge for a few hours.  Like I said earlier, this salad can even keep for a few days.

Lemon-Herb Tofu (adapted from Moosewood Collective’s Simple Suppers)

1 cake firm tofu
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)

Preheat the oven 400.  Cube the tofu as you would have the feta, and spread them into a lightly oiled baking pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.

Whisk together the other ingredients and pour over the tofu.  Bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes, stirring often.  For best results, cool completely before adding to the salad.

His Name Is Lee

May 7, 2013

The slaw, as it arrives to your table.

Chef Susur Lee is a legend amongst the Toronto culinary scene.  He’s opened some of the city’s top restaurants, set up shop in Singapore, Washington DC and New York and even appeared on Food Network, in a (tie) battle vs. Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America and later on Top Chef: Masters.

Cari and I decided my birthday would be a good excuse to finally give Lee Restaurant a try.  Of course, we made that decision on Thursday at which point our reservation options were 5:45pm or 9:15pm.  We dropped Violet off at my parents and opted for a late dinner.

Upon our arrival, we overheard a patron leave, announcing “What a great restaurant.  I can’t believe how good that restaurant was.”  Good sign, we thought.  We took a seat at the bar as we were waiting for our table and sampled two expensive but unbelievably good cocktails.  I had the Mayan Winter ($17), an infusion of tequila, gin and lime juice with julienned apple and cucumber and a small red chili.  Refreshing, spicy, delicious.  Cari opted for the Burnt Orange Manhattan ($18) – bourbon, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, orange cream bitters and a burnt orange peel to finish.

Once seated at our table, our waiter gave us some background on how Lee operates.  All plates are intended for sharing and for the two of us he recommended 3 or 4.  He then took us through some of the dishes he would recommend the most.  Eager to go outside of our usual comfort zone, we more or less followed his suggestions.

We started with the Singapore Slaw, a dish Susur Lee is apparently famous for.  “I know what you’re thinking,” the waiter said to us.  “Why would we waste a course on a slaw?  But trust me… it will be the highlight of your meal.”  And it was!  They brought it us in a giant pile on a plate and mixed it.  What we smelled was unbelievably appetizing.  The server took us through the full list of ingredients… green onions, taro, rice noodles, cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon, tomatoes, sesame seeds, pickled onion, roasted hazelnuts, fried shallots, edible-flower petals, basil, beet greens, daikon sprouts, pickled ginger and a salted-plum dressing.  Phenomenal.  And of course we had to add the sashimi tuna as an add on… of course.

Up next was the Caramelized Black Cod.  Neither Cari or I are that into fish, which is part of why we wanted to order it – the whole “going outside of our comfort zone thing.”  I know black cod is often the epitome of high class dining and this dish was moist and extremely flavourful.  It was also served on a dim sum turnip cake, which is one of my favourite dim sum dishes.

Our third course was a special… a pulled beef with mushrooms, goat cheese and a marsala wine sauce.  Astounding.

It seemed like the meal came and went in a flash, probably because we were so absorbed in our three dishes that time just disappeared.  Next thing we knew it was nearing 11pm, we were full and satisfied.  Ah, but dessert.  The French & Chinese Tong Yuen was described as something of a sweet rice paper dumpling filled with  warm ferrero rocher.  That’s exactly what it tasted like!  A great finish to a great meal.

Lee is not the most cost-effective meal, but it is an experience you will remember.  If you appreciate food as much as we do, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

Stir-Fried Noodles with Chicken

September 30, 2012

Thai-Style Noodles with Chicken

love, love, love Asian noodle dishes.  They are one of my go-to meals for lunch or dinner and something I never tire of.  Unfortunately, Cari and I have never had positive luck with cooking any of these dishes at home.  That is, until now.  Cooks Illustrated recently published this recipe for Thai stir-fried noodles with chicken and it’s absolutely delicious and – despite the many steps involved – not that complicated or time-consuming to make.  We’ve made this dish twice already and will gladly do so again.  The two of us managed to polish off the whole thing both times, so if you want leftovers, make sure you either double it or load up on other dishes.

Oh, and as it turns out the trick to really good stir-fried noodles is to cook it in batches and leave it alone.  That’s right, don’t stir your stir fry!  Who knew!?

Thai-Style Noodles with Chicken


Beer Me: Atwater Brewery’s Vanilla Java Porter

July 8, 2012

ImageTurns out, some American beer doesn’t suck.  On our last few visits to the U.S. we’ve managed to discover some great beers outside of the Budweiser/Coor’s Light/Old Milwaukee drudge. In the same way that Molson Canadian isn’t representative of all Canadian beers, there are some great microbreweries responsible for some delicious and refreshing brews.

On our most recent visit to Fort Wayne, we tried a Vanilla Porter, which was fantastic. This wasn’t it – but was something else we found on the drive home at a Kroger in Michigan. Brewed in Detroit, Atwater’s Vanilla Java Porter begins with a hit of vanilla and finishes with a more subtle coffee taste. Definitely more of a beer I’d associate with the winter or fall months, but refreshing none-the-less.

Aspects of it reminded me of Mill Street’s Coffee Porter, but the hint of vanilla makes it well worth picking up when south of the border.

Deep Dishin’

March 27, 2012

Photo courtesy of the awesome Anklewicz

There’s nothing quite like Chicago style deep dish pizza.  So when our friend Adam A. discovered a delivery-only deep dish pizza restaurant in Toronto, we thought we’d give it a try.  Then, after coming across some negative reviews, we thought better of it and decided to try making deep dish pizza ourselves.

Adam, Emily, Cari and I took our inspiration from this Emeril Lagasse recipe, and we didn’t stray too far from his formula.  We purchased two deep pans and our mouths collectively drooled with anticipation as our pizzas baked in the oven.

The result?  Delicious.  The crust was perfect; just as much a crispy pie shell as what most of us would identify as a pizza crust.  The toppings – hot Italian salami, sausage, olives, peppers and mushrooms – delicious.  But where’d all the cheese go? Admittedly it seemed like we were using a lot, but I would guess you’d need twice as much to truly resemble the Chicago-style pizza Cari and know from our visits to Giordano’s in Chicago.  I would have probably also opted for a sauce that was smooth rather than the chunky sauce Emeril’s recipe suggests.  Some of the commenters on Emeril’s recipe suggested that this pie was as good as the pizzas they remembered from Chicago.  With a few modifications, it very well may be.

What would we change for next time?

Double or triple the cheese. Double or triple the sauce, and then puree it with an immersion blender. I think that would just about do the trick… we’ll post an update when we give it a try!

Homemade Ketchup

October 19, 2011

First step to making ketchup...

“I would really like to make ketchup with you guys.”

While relaxing at the cottage this summer, that’s what our friend Carina posed to Cari and I.  At that point, we had hoped that the bounty of our garden would at least provide some of the tomatoes that went into the ketchup, but since our garden proved a bit of a bust this year that didn’t happen.  Not to mention the fact that to yield seven pints of ketchup, we had to start with 24 lbs of tomatoes.

24 lbs!  To put it in perspective, that’s about how much an 18-month-old would weigh (yes, we’re parents and have to make those kinds of comparisons).  Thankfully we live in an Italian neighbourhood, and many of the local vegetable markets sell bushels of tomatoes.  We were actually able to get approximately 50 lbs for $18.  Not bad!  We went on to use the leftover tomatoes to make oven-roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato soup.


Tomato Soup w/Broiled Cheese

October 11, 2011

Tomato Soup w/Broiled Cheese

I think we can all agree that part of what makes French Onion Soup great is the involvement of bread and cheese.  So what if a similar strategy were applied to tomato soup?  In the case of this one, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, the classic American favourite of grilled cheese and tomato soup is rolled together into one bowl of heaven.  Cari surprised me with a generous sampling of this soup one night and I am already eager to have it again.

We were lucky enough to have leftover fresh tomatoes from our ketchup making experiment, so we were happy to put a lot of them to use here.  Head over to Smitten Kitchen and give it a try!  You won’t regret it.

Restaurant Review: Pizza e Pazzi

September 20, 2011

Cari and I have lived in the Dufferin & St. Clair area for 4 1/2 years.  In that time, we have seen some significant changes to the neighbourhood, mostly between Oakwood and Christie.  But when it comes to the stretch between Lansdowne and Dufferin, it’s mostly the same Italian dress shops and vacant lots that were around when we moved in in the first place.

Enter Pizza e Pazzi.  Located in the spot that once housed another Italian restaurant, what struck us right away was that Pizza e Pazzi actually had people in it from the start.  Never more than a few tables, sure, but it gave the impression that people were interested in eating there.  My curiosity was piqued.  A little while later, I noticed that Pizza e Pazzi served apertivo from Mondays through Wednesdays, offering those willing to spend $10 on a beverage the chance to sample some of the restaurant’s offerings.

It wasn’t until Pizza e Pazzi was ranked #4 on Now Toronto’s Best Pizzas in Toronto list that I was convinced that this was a place we needed to try.  Not surprisingly, this high praise from Now Toronto (as well as other local publications) led to a significant uptick in business.  And now that we’ve eaten their pizza a few times, we can honestly say it’s one of the best pizzas we’ve had outside of Italy.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise just how authentic this pizza tastes.  Pizza e Pazzi had their pizza oven flown in from Italy, and is one of the few pizza places in Toronto to have received certification from something called the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana.

With prices ranging from $9.50 to $24.75 a pizza, this is more of a high-end pizza than the place you’ll want to order from weekly.  Well, you’ll want to order from them weekly – but your wallet may disagree.  Our favourites so far have been the margherita verace, diavola (spicy salami), quattro fromaggi (four cheese) and tartufata (the priciest pizza on the menu, loaded up with mushrooms, truffle oil and aged prosciutto).

As great as it is to have a fantastic pizza place in our neighbourhood, it’s even more exciting to see a place around the corner with lineups out the door on a Saturday night.