Apr 30, 2009

Fab Feta kicks Greek Salad up a Notch

"Zen" Greek salad

It's recipe time.

With all of the excitement around here ramping up to the Festival of Chefs, I find myself thinking about food possibilities almost constantly. So it was no surprise that I ended up meandering around CheeseB yesterday, basket in hand, with a very specific mission:

Greek Salad.

Because it's Spring. Because it's good. Just because. I decided to call this a Zen salad because of the intricate balance of flavours and textures you can't help but meditate on as you chew. It starts with the feta-- humble though it is-- the right feta can transform a pretty good salad into something unbelievably delicious.

It so happens that CheeseB has such a feta. Made from Goat's milk and imported from Greece, it has a soft crumble and a creamy tang that is quite pleasant. The suggestion on the wrapper was to try using it in place of chevre or cream cheese.

Olives, too, are of vital importance. It is hard to miss the attractive display of assorted olives at the front counter. I went with the pitted kalamatas. Meaty, tasty little things that I added liberally to the salad. This is the advantage of making a Greek salad yourself. What is up with this whole "one olive per salad" business so commonly practiced? I suppose this is fine when you don't like them-- but that is not me. I ate half of them before the salad was even made.

The other factor that made this an above average dish was the simple, aromatic dressing-- a good extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and chopped fresh dill.

Here is the recipe:
Grape tomatoes, in halves
Kalamata olives
Greek Feta
Red onion, sliced thin
Romaine lettuce

Fresh Dill
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Extra virgin olive oil
Pepper and sea salt

Quantities are to taste.
All I have to add in the way of instructions is to moisten the salad as it is mixed with a little dressing, crumble in some feta, then drizzle on more dressing and crumble lots of feta on top when it is served.

Apr 24, 2009

Festival of Chefs 2009: Langdon Hall

Only an hour or so out of Toronto (depending on how you drive) there exists a little slice of paradise known as Langdon Hall. Surrounded by trees, flowers, lush lawns and fresh country air is the grand hotel, restaurant and spa. Passing through regal gates is like stepping into another time with hints of Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery everywhere. History seems to be the heart of the place, but the stomach is the core and that's run by executive chef Jonathan Gushue.

The grounds - which are at once, romantic as well as warm and cozy - are not purely aesthetic, but also functional for foraging. Many of the kitchen's ingredients come from the land, from vegetables to maple syrup and even captured rain water from their well. This is true localism in the finest form, and the freshness can be tasted in every bite.

Because this was the final place to hit on the tour of Festival of Chef establishments, and because of the location, Breemer (that's me) and O-reagano invited fellow CheeseB-ers Big Cheese and his Big Cheesette to come and join us (and also chauffeur us). All four of us took the time to explore the grounds, poking our noses in the grand rooms of the main house, breathing in the warm welcoming smell of a burning fireplace, and examining the old photographs that hang on almost every wall.

The CheeseB team eventually found themselves in the Wilks’ Bar--just one of a possible number of rooms you might be seated at. There we dined with a lovely view of the lily pond (not too many lilies yet, but you could imagine how gorgeous it would be in warmer weather).

The feast began with an amuse bouche of parsley and ham terraine with horseradish and apple mustard which was explained quite nicely to us by a very friendly and informative server. We then dug into the fresh made bread, smeared with homemade butter, all the while sipping rain water from the well. Everything was simply deeelish and we only just got started!

For appetizers, the Big Cheese chose the wild fennel soup with double smoked bacon, le blanc and a burrata crostini (Gushue later told us that burrata is one of his favourite cheeses at the moment because of its freshness). Comments like “awesome” and “blows my mind” were heard uttered from Big Cheese between spoonfuls (he's such a noob in this journey :-p).

Fine fennel

Big's Cheesette opted for a salad of bitter greens with endive, radicchio, sour dough croutons, pancetta, heirloom apple, forfar dairy cheddar dressing, grain mustard. She was enthused that the dressing was quite nice, light and creamy.

I'm drooling just looking at this!

Both O-reagano and myself, Breemer, had the organic trout tartare with crushed avocado, crisp shallots, citrus-soy dressing. OMG! This alone is enough to come back for. O-reagano said that when you have something this exquisite, it’s a shame that fish is ever cooked. I will be having dreams of this dish for sure.

The mains were equally inspiring. Big Cheese had the Wilks’ bar fish and chips with celeriac remoulade, tartar sauce, watercress salad.

Not just your average fish and chips

Big Cheesette, being a vegetarian, had the green asparagus with egg noodle (which was made in house), grana padona basil and sweet peas.

Green and gorgeous

O-reagano was lucky enough to try both the seared digby scallops with sun gold beets, arugula, mascarpone, pickled red onion hearts and smoked prosciutto crumble AND char grilled king prawns with pickled baby leeks from the grounds, marinated tomato oil, roasted olives served with a small salad.

Sweet, succulent, scrumptious scallops

Regal king prawns

I opted for the New York steak sandwich “Arthur Reuben” with choucroute, 1000 Island-green peppercorn dressing, cave aged gruyere all on homemade sour dough rye.

A fabulous rendition of a "Reuben"

Now for the sweetest part of the gastronomic marathon: dessert! These were all so good and rich we simply had to share so no one would miss out on any of the flavours.

There was no way we wouldn’t order the only chocolate item on the menu, the chocolate honey bar decorated with caramel glass and chocolate shards.

Like a Mars bar, only infinitely better

There was a glazed poached Anjou pear atop a Langdon puff pastry with pear-vanilla puree. The puff in this pastry was purrrffect.

The passion fruit crème caramel with mango relish and passion fruit caramel was so so so (I can't even spit it out because it was so) divine.

As an extra special treat we had a white chocolate mousse with candied ginger and a sesame tuille. Again, this could be reason enough to return. I never would have dreamed of pairing ginger and chocolate but the result was scrumptious.

White chocolate heaven

Passionfruit Creme Caramel

Warning: try not to day-dream too much about these mouthwatering dishes as the menu changes every two or three months. That being said, I’m quite sure the next menu will be equally appetizing!

This concludes the establishment portion of the preamble to Festival of Chefs, but by no means is this the end. Stay tuned for profiles of the participating chefs as well as interviews and a photo gallery from every FoC day in May. Lots more gourmet to come!

Apr 22, 2009

Last Night's Party: Cheese Boutique edition

Festival of Chefs --Launch Celebration: April 21st
Mood: Can't wait for May Weekends now!
More to come--but we have one more chef to profile...up next Langdon Hall.

Apr 17, 2009

Festival of Chefs 2009: reds bistro

Bank, bank, bank, bistro.

The busy Bay Street business people are lucky to work near one of the Festival of Chefs participating restaurants, reds bistro, run by Executive Chef Mike Steh. We, Breemer and O-reagano, ventured into the financial district to feast upon the fine food served at reds. Seated on the second level in amongst a plethora of suits, we were treated to a lovely view and, while they sat inside sipping sparkling wine, we observed the hustle and bustle of Adelaide below.

The ambiance was warm and, though it was full with the hungry lunch crowd, it wasn’t noisy. But we were there for the food, not the atmosphere, so we buried our heads in the menu to see all there was to offer. After agonizing over many delicious-sounding decision, we chose (with the help of our very friendly server Michael) an appetizer of smoked salmon tartar, which came with minced capers, shallots and hens egg and a dollop of buttermilk crème fra
îche. It was lovely!

Up close and personal with smoked salmon tartar

Next up was a board of charcuterie including Tuscana salami, duck prosciutto, fruit mustarda, in-house preserves, brioche toast and a fois gras and chicken liver parfait that was melt-in-your-mouth light and creamy yet at the same time packed with flavour. On the side was a bowl of preserves, all of which were made in-house.

All the choices on the charcuterie

A practically perfect parfait

For her main attraction, O-reagano opted for the grilled Berkshire pork loin with chipotle and rhubarb BBQ sauce, braised swiss chard, garlic and provolone polenta.

Breemer devoured 6 ounces of tri tip sirloin from Cumbrae Farms, which was served with crisp Yukon gold frites, sautéed mushrooms, and red wine jus. The flavour was phenomenal, this could have been because the beef had been dry aged for five to six weeks.

Lovely looking loins

Succulent steak. Sooo good!

Because this is the place to go to have some wine and cheese in Toronto, there was no way we would leave without tasting some of what they had to offer. It was tough to choose from the large selection, but eventually we narrowed it down to three different cheeses that came with delectable poached walnuts (also made in-house): Paulhaus was a semi-ripe goat’s milk from Portugal, quite mild and buttery; Roaring Forties, an Australian cow’s milk blue veined cheese that went superbly with the Cave Springs ice wine (this one took O-reagano’s tastebuds on a stroll down flavour-memory lane as this was the first cheese she ever blogged about); hands down the highlight had to be the Testun Di Barolo, a sheep’s milk from Italy that came with pressed grape skin exterior. We fell in cheese love with the last cheese in all its purple glory.

Trio of choice cheeses

Simply squisito!

Miraculously, we still had room for not one, but two desserts AND a glass of Biceron, an Italian chocolate liquer which was so thick you almost had to chew.

At first we were going to go with just the season crème brulee. This was an espresso crème brulee with in-house poached cherries. Like the parfait (in texture, not flavour), the dessert simply melted in your mouth, soft and creamy, perfectly accented by the sweet, tart cherries.

But that was not the end, oh no, there was still more. Our charming server couldn’t let us leave without trying his favourite dessert: peanut butter mousse with caramelized bananas and banana gelato. It was everything you always wanted a peanut butter cup to be, but wasn’t.

Peanut butter like you've never had it before

Bring on the brulee

Eventually, we rolled our full selves out of the restaurant, grinning from ear-to-ear as wereflected on the epicurean experience they just thoroughly enjoyed.

Apr 9, 2009

Festival of Chefs 2009: Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

Tucked away in one of the industrial-looking buildings in Liberty Village lies Donna Dooher’s latest venture, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, which was the next stop on O-reagano and Breemer’s voyage of Festival of Chef restaurants.

We were immediately struck by the open ambiance. The dining area is very spacious with funky long hanging lights (some of which looked a little like elongated metallic glowing ET fingers), large floor-to-ceiling windows ran the entire length of the restaurant and accents of pretty white flowers in long, thin white glass vases were scattered throughout. Parallel to the wall of windows sat an open kitchen unit stationed where patrons can observe the chefs working away.

Open kitchen and gloriously plump heirloom tomatoes

A friendly server informed us about an appetizer special which sounded just too good to pass up. Our favourite: buffalo mozzarella! Accompanying the cheese were tomatoes, basil and (a novelty for us) chunks of bread all drizzled in oil and balsamic. Every bite tasted just like summer! Good, flavourful tomatoes really do make all the difference and can take a dish like this from good to great.

Caprese Salad screamed Summer!

For the main, O-reagano ordered the grilled steak piadini, which came with stracchino, oven dried cherry tomato and truffled rocket salad. This dish looked so good our neighbours nearly got whiplash when they eagerly turned their heads to take a look at her plate. One look at this picture and you’ll see why.

Steak Piadini looking so good you could frame it

Breemer decided on the croque monsieur. Breaking away from the traditional ham, this sandwich came with chicken, scallions and oodles of Quebec cheddar. On the side was a spring vegetable salad with an herb vinaigrette and a little cuppa tomato relish/salsa which added a nice edge to the soft and comfort-food-like sandwich.

When you're this yummy, they call you Monsier

Then came dessert. How do we even begin? Well, for starters, when the dishes arrived at our table, and after we picked our jaws up from said table, large Cheshire-like grins spread across our faces. The first one we gobbled up was Mildred’s classic profiteroles with Lindt chocolate ice cream sitting in puddles of caramel and chocolate sauces. Every spoonful made our mouths happy.

Three bellissimo balls drenched with chocolate decadence

We then veered our spoons over to the coconut chocolate pot de crème with macadamia nut chocolate cookies. The pot de crème could be described in a similar fashion to a shampoo commercial: soft, silky and smooth. In between spoonfuls of this we nibbled at the cookies. As O-reagano said, “there are cookies, and then there are really, really good cookies.” These ones, with their chewiness and chunks of white chocolate, fell into the latter category.

These treats tasted as delicate as the petals that adorned them

With a lunch like that there was little hope for dinner to come even close to satisfying the palette! It was truly an epicurean adventure that our taste buds are only too eager to repeat.

Apr 7, 2009

Meet CheeseB's new in-house chef: Juan!

Cheese Boutique has a new member of the family, in-house chef Juan Salinas. So we decided we should take the time to get to know him.

When did you first fall in love with food?

All my life I’ve been in love with food. Have you seen Like Water for Chocolate? I grew up with all those sounds, smells, colours, textures; that’s exactly the story of my life. 

How did this love of food transfer to a career?

In Mexico we don’t call them “careers”. In Mexico we look for skills, something that you have in your nature, not something that you only want to be, it is something that you can do. Normally your parents have that eye for you, though obviously you have your input too. So my father, when I was 14, took me down to a hotel in Mexico City. My father talked to chef and said, “Well, this is my son Juan, he’s 14-year-old, but now he’s in your hands.” That used to be the tradition; where that person became your godfather, and that’s the way you started. I decided when I was exposed to this magnificent hotel, the Prado, everything was white marble, a fantastic old style hotel in the downtown core of Mexico City. It was when I saw the cooking that I realized it was something different, that I could be a professional. And I saw all these men in uniforms, such neat white jackets. That was incredibly glamorous. I fell in love immediately with the profession and doing what I liked to do: cooking and being around food.

While a familiar beginning for many chefs is beginning as a dishwasher, Juan began his journey as a coffee boy. After about two years the chef told him, “ok, you’re ready, you’re going to come into the kitchen”…

They opened the doors, those two doors were just like getting into heaven. You see all this craziness, smells, smoke, everything at the same time. Then he goes, “you’re not going there, you’re coming here.” He turns around and there’s the loading dock. And he said, “you’re going to learn how to store everything, how to receive the vegetables, how to check, everything.” I did that for a year and then they passed me into vegetables, to clean up vegetables. That was my introduction into professional cooking.

That’s was Juan’s intro to professional cooking, but, like he said earlier, he was familiarized with food from very early on.

The introduction of cooking into my life was as a baby from my mother; we were nine kids, four brothers and four sisters… My dad made this table, solid mahogany, and it seats 14 people. Just imagine the volume. My mom and my aunt, they had to prepare everything for at least 20, 25 people, three courses every day…. But you program yourself and they did it and they loved doing it. And it bridges here. Today is my day off and I’m here prepping because I know what they’re going to need. So I’m the mom right now.

When did you come to Canada?

The first time I came [to Canada] was in 1992. I came to take some courses at George Brown. There were these master chefs in Chinese cuisine. I had this incredible attraction to learn how to cook Chinese. I had a good friend in Mexico who was Chinese and opened a restaurant, and I always asked him, “can you please teach me?” But he never did. He actually brought all his cooks from China. It was very interesting because in Mexico we don’t have China Town as it is here. But when you got into the kitchen of this restaurant it was China Town… The community in that kitchen was incredible. Every time I went in there I felt really, really good. So that was where I learned the philosophy at work. These people came from the other side of the world to a country where the language is totally different, the culture is totally different, they stick together, the work together, and they accomplish fantastic things together. So that is the confirmation from what I learned, things are done together, not by one’s self… The elements of community that I saw in that kitchen, are elements I saw in my family. That’s why when I tell you if you want a good reference for me, when you see the movie Like Water for Chocolate, that is exactly what it is.

Have you found a sense of community here at Cheese Boutique?

That’s why I accepted the job. That’s why I applied. Before I came here, I did some work with Pristine on the TV show, we had them as guests, so I get to know them. Then we were invited here one day when they had celebrity chef cooking. I came over and it was fantastic. I can see the family sense in here. I don’t know who is family and who is not… It is not a normal traditional professional kitchen. That’s why I’m telling you I feel like a mother preparing everything for my child. It’s my day off. But it’s the same thing with my mom. Even if we were to go out for dinner somewhere, she would give us something to eat in case the dinner wasn’t that great, or she would have food in her purse in case there wasn’t enough food at the dinner. She was always thinking. That’s me. It’s not that I’m worried, it’s that I’m prepared.

Are there any themes we can expect from your cooking?

My cooking is not complicated; it’s very simple, very natural. What you see is what it is. There are no themes, what I’m trying to do is to satisfy people with my cooking. Their needs? I don’t really know, but I’m sure their needs are like everyone’s needs: something healthy, freshly made every day, good looking, tasty, and that is what you have. Do I have a menu for this? I don’t. Look at this store. How can I have a menu? Personally, I think I could make a menu with a thousand dishes, just today. If I think more, maybe tomorrow I come up with another thousand items. It’s endless. Endless! I have everything. I’m in paradise; I’m in heaven. It’s abundance, and this is part of my childhood too. I was born in a very beautiful land. The land where chocolate was made, the land where the god in the evening came down from the stars to bring the cocoa bean and left it in Mexico. The name of the town I was born was Paradiso, which means paradise. On the way to school my mother would say, “make sure you grab an orange and a banana.” Not from home, you go walking on the street and oranges and bananas grow wild. When I tell those stories to people they think I’m joking. But it’s not a joke. So here, when I’m cooking, I can hear my mom in the back of my head. Here I can grab whatever I want and all that is there. Good quality meat - we have fantastic meats - we have fantastic produce, preserves and everything, I couldn’t ask for more.