Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mushroom Risotto

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This first snowfall of the year in Toronto. It wasn't much, but it happened.

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(That's snow on the railing... not on the ground... don't be fooled)

So to celebrate I decided to make a delicious creamy mushroom risotto.
And how does risotta relate to the first snow fall of the year?

Well, when I sprinkled my parmigiano Reggiano on top it looked like following snow... and it was pretty... and reminded me of snow, so that's how.

But it's also comfort food, and who doesn't love comfort food on cold days?

This wonderful, rich and creamy dish is made with the high starch Aborio rice and unlike other rices you don't add all the liquid at once, instead you add it a little bit at a time. It's best to use liquids that are hot as it keeps the temperature consistent and allows the rice to release it's starch, giving risotto it's creamy texture.

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This is a wonderful dish to have on it's own or as a side, and just like pasta, the combinations are endless. Try adding asparagus or butter nut squash, and try using canned tomatoes instead of chicken stock for the liquid.

Enjoy!

Mushroom Risotto
Serves 3-4 as main dish
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup of Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp of butter
  • thinly sliced white mushrooms (10-12)
  • 3 tbsp of chives or parsley
  • 1/3 cup of freshly grated parmigiano Reggiano
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a medium sauce pan bring chicken broth to a simmer then reduce the heat and keep warm. In a large sauce pan on medium-high melt butter till foamy, then add mushrooms and cook until soft. Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. In the large sauce pan add the olive oil, onions and garlic, leaving the temperature at medium high. Once you can smell the garlic add in the rice and stir so all the rice is coated with oil. Once you've cooked the rice for a minute or so add in the white wine and stir until evaporated.
  3. Pour 1/2 cup of chicken stock into the sauce pan and stir constantly until broth is absorbed into the rice. Once absorbed, pour in another 1/2 cup, and stir until absorb, gradually repeat this step 1/2 cup at a time until all the broth is gone and rice is tender and creamy (about 20 minutes). When the last cup of broth is added stir in the mushrooms and chives. Remember to stir constantly to allow the rice to release all it's starch.
  4. Once all the broth is absorbed remove from heat and stir in parmigiano Reggiano and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Banana Bread

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Banana bread... or muffins, are kinda special to me.

First of all, it was the one and only thing that my mom baked (this is her recipe by the way). So my association with banana bread isn't associated with other baked goods like cookies or even muffins. It's almost a genre of it's own.

The genre it belongs to is Sunday nights when my mom would stay up late to make banana muffins because she had Sundays off, and why she always waited till late at night I'll never know. But this meant that we had muffins for the week, and living in a house where sweets were not really welcomed, was awesome.

My second association with banana bread is the time I spent in Banff working at a ski resort. This was probably one of the best times of my life, where I met amazing people from all over the world. At the resort, I was a barista at the coffee shop and my favourite baked good they made was this moist and dense banana bread that I would eat almost every day.

It was here where I understood the combination of butter and banana bread. It's as if were invented simply as a vehicle to transport butter into my mouth.

The other thing about banana bread not being associated with baked goods is the way I make them. There is no mixing dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately like most muffin recipes. It all goes in one bowl where I mix it together simultaneously. It's just the way my mom makes them and they always turn out fantastic.

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Enjoy!

Banana Bread/Muffins
Makes one loaf or 12-14 muffins
  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 3 very ripe bananas mashed
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips or walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease loaf pan or muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl mix together oil, eggs and sugar. Then mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well combined. Next mix in the banans, sour cream and vanilla. Once all ingredients are combined, mix in the chocolate chips or walnuts if desired.
  3. For banana bread, pour the batter into the pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  4. For banana muffin , divide the batter among each muffin tin, the batter may fill up more than just 12 muffins tins and bake for 20-25 minutes (23 minutes for my oven), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  5. For both loaf and muffins, let it cool in the tins for 10 minutes before you transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Garlic Basil Pesto

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Okay, so I realize I'm trying to make this pesto sound fancy by calling it garlic basil pesto, when really, that's what pesto is made of. But I couldn't just call it pesto, it looked lame.

So here is a delicious recipe for garlic basil pesto. Complete with toasted pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil!

Damn. I did it again.

All the basic ingredients for pesto, no special ingredients added, but they sound special don't they?

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You know what...

Maybe that's what makes pesto so freckin' delicious. Because it does have special ingredients. They are all fresh, flavourful ingredients and when pulverized together they make this simple and aromatic sauce that is used for more than just pasta.

Not to mention that Parmigiano-Reggiano, pine nuts and good olive oil are also not the cheapest things to buy, I guess that also makes them special....

I have also discovered a way to keep pesto sauce by freezing it in ice cube trays which allows you to keep the pesto in the freezer for months. They are the perfect serving sizes (1 cube per person) and you can have home made pesto ready whenever you need it.

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Enjoy!

Garlic Basil Pesto
Makes 8 servings
  • 2 cups of packed fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts (toast them at 350 degrees F for 3 minutes, watch at 2 minutes, if they start to turn light brown, take them out, they will continue to toast even out of the oven)
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a food processor place the basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pine nuts, garlic cloves and a splash of the olive oil to moisten the ingredients.
  2. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. While the machine is running drizzle in the olive oil. You may not need to use all the olive oil, but add until desired consistency. Scrap down the sides to make sure all the ingredients are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. In an ice cube tray, scoop about 2 tbsp of pesto into each section. I was able to fill 8 cubes. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until you need some pesto.
*To prepare the pesto you don't need to thaw it, just throw into cooked pasta and let it cook with the heat of the pasta. Add a splash of pasta water if desired to thin out the sauce.

*Add a splash of cream for a pesto cream sauce and diced tomatoes for a little freshness.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Frank's Kitchen

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When was the last time you had a memorable dining experience?

And I'm not talking memorable like, you ordered ice cream but got frozen butter instead, and the server tried to cover it up by saying that it was special maple butter ice cream.

This didn't just happen once, but twice.

These are not the memorable experiences that I'm talking about. What I'm talking about are those experiences that not only take you back to the food, but every single moment that surrounded the food. The setting. The music. The quite chatter in the background. The swooshing of your wine and the bold flavours that escape out of the glass.

This, is what dining is all about and unfortunately, it is rare.

Why are these places so rare and what makes them so special?

Love.

Love is truly what makes Frank's Kitchen so special. Every staff member here truly cares about the food being served. And no restaurant can have passionate staff without passionate owners leading them. Both Frank Parhizgar and his partner and wife, Shawn Cooper have the passion and experience that makes this restaurant sparkle among the many restaurants in Little Italy on College Street.

Dinner began with freshly baked artisan bread with green olive tepenade and sun-dried tomato tepenade followed by Frank's own salami, cured in house, topped with Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Next came a three part amuse-bouche, all this, compliments of the chef.

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After three plates of Frank showcasing his craftsmanship and artistry as a chef, we received our salad made with buffalo mozzarella, roasted tomato and red pepper with cured black olives in an aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil $15.

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Once our palettes were cleansed from the sorbet, we were finally ready for the main course. We ordered the beef wellington wrapped in a truffled mousse with a foie gras jus $40. The beef was done to perfection and the foie gras melted in my mouth. We also ordered the crisp gnocchi in a gorgonzola cream with pancetta $17. Crisp gnocchi, need I say more?

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It would seem that I would be full at this point, but how could we possibly turn down dessert at this point, we had to experience every little bit of this wonderful place.

We ordered the mini chocolate souffle with soft molton chocolate inside served with a vanilla milkshake shot and strawberry sorbet. And of course, who doesn't order crème brûlée at such a fine establishment. It is after all, my absolute favourite dessert.

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For two people, our entire meal comprising of all these delicious things and wine, cost $135 with tip included.

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I have attached a bit of an interview I did with Chef Frank Parhizgar on Roger Mooking's blog.

He is, by far, the most interesting chef I have interviewed. And the coolest.

I highly recommend you make a reservation for this place as soon as you can.

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Me: How did your interest in cooking happen by accident?

Frank: I was an athlete. I ran track and field, 400-meter hurdles. I used to travel Europe, going from city to city like a tennis player, following the tournaments and trying to compete and trying to get better. In between seasons I used to come back to Canada and save up money. One of the years I decided I wasn’t going to come back. It was in between the outdoor season and the indoor season and I decided to get a job. It really happened by accident, I had no intentions to be a chef or cook or anything, but I found this fantastic place, a chateau in France, with lots of rolling hills. I was thinking if I could get a job here, it would be great, I could exercise here, use what was around me, get myself back in shape, get some money. I thought, I’m already here, I don’t have to spend another $2000 on flights. The money could go towards cheap motels where I could stay and wait for the next tournament to start. So I went in, asking for a job and they literally told me f*** off. I wasn’t a trained chef, no culinary background, no idea. It’s like going to a mechanic and just saying I want to be a mechanic, I had no clue. But I finally managed to be a pest enough and not get rejected, and got the job. So when I started, they wanted to teach me a few lessons. They would say, you see the stacks of potatoes, take them down to the cellar. And these are old Parisian buildings, where the steps are tiny and there are hundreds of them. I had to take the potatoes, put them on my back and go down these stairs and then for fun I would do squats and they would be like who is this guy? But for me it was physical exercise, it was fantastic. And I would do it faster than any of the other apprentices and better than any other apprentices. But I was a prep there and as a prep you come in, clean the restaurant, help with the prep, peel the potatoes and when the chefs were done at night you would stay there and clean the entire kitchen from top to bottom. Every time I would finish my task I would go to the head chef and the chef would get so angry with me because I wasn’t following the chain of commands. So, I would finish at 1:00-2:00 in the morning and as punishment the chef would say, you come tomorrow at 4:00 am and I thought great! More exercise! They could not understand. So at 4 in the morning I would come and they would think okay, this time we are going to break this guy, he’s going to leave. But this was a time when you saw all the butchers, the bread bakers, the guys that would smoke the fish, butchering all the fish and you saw everything from scratch. That was it, I fell in love with it. So I would help prep, but I had no knife skills. I would be cutting things and bleeding and they would say faster, faster! Putting pressure on me, but I was directly with the chef, with the coach and all of a sudden, I accelerated a lot quicker by being directly there and I guess somehow they started to take a liking to me. And one important thing I learned about kitchens, is that the person who knows where everything is, is very valuable. So when service would start, even though they were main chefs, they wouldn’t know where the ingredients were and I would know where it was. I put them away from morning to night, and I just got more involved, more efficient, you move up, you learn. And that’s how I fell in love with it, it consumed me so much. That team atmosphere, the sights, the smells, the art of it, it all made sense, for me it was a perfect transition into it.

Find the rest on Roger's blog.

Reservations can be made by calling 416 516 5861
Frank's Kitchen
588 College Street (College and Clinton)
Toronto, Ontario


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