Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This just in: We're #60! And also #77!

I was a judge for this year's Top 100 Restaurants in the World list, which appears in The Restaurant magazine (sponsored by San Pellegrino).

Canada cracked the top 100, and for the first time in the six-year history of the awards, two Canadian restaurants made the list, those being Rouge in Calgary (#60), and Langdon Hall in Cambridge (#77), which doesn't surprise me seeing as I've tasted Chef Jonathan Gushue's incredible cooking at several events. I just haven't made it to Langdon Hall yet.

Bottom line: None of my picks made the list. (What do they have against Harvey's?)

Seriously, I think it's crazy that Canada doesn't have any restaurants in the top 10, or even top 50 for that matter, and so does Steve Dolinsky, a food reporter on ABC 7 News in Chicago, who helps organize the North American judges, and recently had a great time eating his way through Toronto and Montreal. He sent me a note today saying, "Well, at least [there are] two Canadian places in the top 100 this year; certainly an improvement. I’m going to recruit at least 12-15 Canadian judges for next year out of the 30, so start brainstorming."

Will do.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fun with leftovers: Orange Chinese cashew chicken

Game plan:

Put some basmati rice on the stove to cook (follow package directions.)

Shred leftover chicken and toss with Hoisin sauce and a mounded Tbsp of orange zest.

Mince a couple of cloves of garlic and a knob of fresh ginger and slice up a few green onions (reserve one green onion for garnish.)

Segment the orange that you used for the zest, letting any juice fall into the chicken. (You'll need about half an orange for each serving of chicken.)

Get some cashews at the ready (I keep them in the freezer so they’re always there for me when I need them -- without going rancid.) Say, a scant handful for each serving of chicken.

Dribble a bit of vegetable oil in a pan or wok, and then cook the garlic, ginger and green onion for a minute or until fragrant.

Toss in the shredded chicken mixture and warm through. Add the orange segments, some chili flakes, and then the cashews. Toss around for a couple of minutes more. Serve on warm basmati rice and top with green onion.

How fun was that?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another gift from my mom

In our continuing series on single use kitchen utensils, I present the Trudeau stainless steel avocado cutter, another well-meaning yet anger-inducing gift from my mother.

Why the anger? I’m a minimalist (and a jerk.) I use the same weathered wooden spoon for 96% of my cooking -- a spatula, a slotted spoon and a ladle take up the remaining percentage points.

So how does the avocado cutter work? Well, the instructions are right there on the knifey/spoon face for all to see: Simply use the serrated edge to cut the fruit open, then pop out the pit with the pick-like tip, scoop out the delicate flesh using the rounded bottom, then use the serrated edge again to slice it up.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s cheap and cheerful and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. And, it comes with a five-year warranty.

I just don’t need it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A perfect potage for a meatless Monday

The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) is asking us all to make the choice to go Meatless on Mondays.

“Giving up meat for just one day a week can make a huge difference,” says the press release. “Scientific literature suggests that the consumption of a diet of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and fruits, is consistently associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, less obesity and less heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.” Exercise is also encouraged, and, they add that, “Cutting out meat and other animal products is the most powerful way to fight climate change and reduce our ecological footprint.”

Here’s how Meatless Monday works:

-Go to and take TVA’s Meatless Monday pledge, in which you commit to give up meat for six Mondays, starting April 19 through to May 24.

-Once you’ve made your pledge, you will start to receive recipes and cooking ideas via email from TVA, to make your Monday meals more healthy and hassle free.

-Share your recipes with your friends and encourage them to take the Meatless Monday pledge.

Bottom line: Save your burger binge for Tuesday, and enjoy my delicious, earth-friendly soup tonight.

Sweet potato, coconut & cilantro soup

(serves 4-6)


1 tbsp butter

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 large celery rib, chopped

2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, chopped

1 very large sweet potato, peeled and chopped

3 cups hot vegetable stock

pinch of sugar

pinch of cayenne

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup coconut milk (they even come in handy ½ cup cans now, so no waste!)

1/2 cup fresh coriander or cilantro, chopped

¼ cup fried shallots (optional but good)


Heat butter with oil in a soup pot. Add onion and cook for two minutes, add carrot and celery, cook for a few minutes more, stirring often. Add Yukon golds and sweet potatoes, add seasonings, cover in hot stock, bring to a boil then lower temperature and let the soup simmer away for a half hour or until all vegetables are tender.

Turn off heat and stir in coconut milk. Let soup cool slightly then add chopped coriander and add soup in batches to a blender. Here’s a trick I recently learned at culinary school in Mexico City: Let the blender go for a good few minutes – like, waaaay longer than you’d think is normal. This makes for an incredibly silky consistency. Reheat before serving.

Top with some fried shallots (I buy them by the bag in Asian stores and keep them in the freezer) and some extra chopped coriander.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A San Francisco treat

When I arrived in San Francisco last Sunday for the first time ever, it was raining. Pissing. Pouring. Buckets. Cats and dogs. (But not men.)

A lesser woman would have tucked herself into her crazy-cozy king-sized bed at the Fairmont San Francisco and watched a bad Sunday afternoon movie.

But not this intrepid traveller.

Knowing I was only in the city for a few days and that most of my time would be spent at a conference, I grabbed a sturdy spring-loaded umbrella from the concierge and hoofed it down the infamously steep Nob Hill, and then a few blocks over, towards America’s largest Chinatown.

It didn’t take me long to decide where to eat. The decision was pretty much thrust upon me when a homeless man started coming at me in slo-mo kung fu moves. So instead of engaging in a Tarantino-style street battle in the pouring rain in the middle of America’s largest Chinatown, I turned down a side street and entered the bright and busy Washington Bakery and Restaurant.

Aside from the moon cakes and sugared donuts and cream puffs, bowls of congee, dumplings and noodle soups appeared to be the restaurant specialty.

I ordered the roasted duck and dumplings soup, all of which came tucked into a nest of thin golden egg noodles, lapped with a mellow broth.

Good, warming fuel to get me back up Nob Hill. Hopefully, without encountering any more kung fu challenges.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Roasted beet crostini

At long last it’s time to bid adieu to winter’s earthy vegetables and welcome spring’s vibrant green treasures. But let’s first give our hearty old roots a proper send-off, shall we?

Say, in the form of this new take on an old favourite: Roasted beet crostini.

If you don’t remember how to roast beets, check this link. Once they’re cooked, just chop them up and toss with a bit of balsamic vinegar sweetened with a touch of brown sugar.

Next, preheat the broiler, slice up a crusty baguette and brush bread with olive oil. Toast slices until they become lightly browned crostini.

Top crostini with your prepared beets, some shaved Parmesan, and say hello to the first chives of spring.

Welcome back chives. We’ve missed you!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Eat here: Phil's Original

This is a smoked brisket sandwich with perfect fries and housemade hot sauce from Phil's Original BBQ in Toronto (Phil is a card-carrying member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society). Oh baby, I ate the whole thing.

And you know something? It felt right.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Homemade English muffins

Passover finally ends tonight, which means it's time to -- let my people eat bread!

In other words, there’s never been a better time to whip up my latest go-to bread staple -- some fast, homemade English muffins. These are super easy to make, and the recipe does make a lot of them, so get out the freezer bags.

And now that I’m thinking, you know what? Make this sauce, poach some eggs, cook down some spinach, invite the gang over for brunch, and you’ve got the makings of spectacular Eggs Florentine, along with scoring major Brownie points. (Use ham instead of spinach and say hello to Eggs Benny.)

This English muffin recipe comes from one of the handiest cookbooks around, Blueberries & Polar Bears, part of a self-published series by Helen Webber & Marie Woolsey out of northern Manitoba, which has sold more than 100,000 copies through word of mouth. Their books are all about good, stick to your ribs fare with flair, for all those times when you find yourself out hunting polar bears (meaning photo safaris, of course), or building igloos. You know, normal everyday stuff like that.


(makes 2 dozen)


2 cups warm water

1/3 cup white sugar

1 tbsp salt

6.5 cups flour

2 tbsp instant yeast

2 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

some cornmeal


Combine water, sugar and salt. Add 2 cups flour and yeast. Beat for 2 minutes. Add eggs and shortening. Beat for 1 minute. Work in remaining flour and let dough rest in the bowl for 20 minutes.

Roll dough to half-inch (1.3 cm) thickness. Cut with a 3-4” (7-10 cm) cutter (I used a glass.) Place on an ungreased baking sheet which has been sprinkles with cornmeal. Sprinkle a little cornmeal over the muffins as well. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat an ungreased electric frying pan to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle pan with a bit more cornmeal and cook muffins for 7-8 minutes on each side. They should be browned and sound hollow when done.