Archive for the ‘Canada’Category

Ontario wine country becomes a world player

Magdalena Kaiser pours tasting of VQA Ontario wines in Toronto.
Meeting Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario during our recent visit to Toronto was a real treat. She hails from Ontario wine royalty. Her father, Karl Kaiser, was a co-founder in 1975 of Inniskillin Wines, Inc. The first winery licensed in Ontario since 1929, Inniskillin was a pioneer in making world-class wines on the Niagara Peninsula east of Toronto. The area quickly became known for exceptional ice wines but has broadened out to a huge variety of table wines as well.

We started visiting the Niagara Peninsula in the late 1980s. At the time, winemakers were shifting into European vinifera grapes from hardier French-American hybrids. They also launched Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), which oversees quality standards and certifies the origins of the wines in Ontario and British Columbia.

From that base on the Niagara Peninsula, wine-growing has expanded in several choice areas in Ontario. As Kaiser led us through a broad tasting of wines from three main wine regions over dinner at Richmond Station (richmondstation.ca), she seemed to know every pour as if it were one of her own.

Ontario terroir


bottles-1 We were struck by the sudden maturity of the youngest region, Prince Edward County. Located northeast of the other wine regions, it occupies a limestone peninsula on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Lake effect temperatures and stony soils give the wines a profound minerality. We tasted the Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014 from Wellington. The wine displayed pronounced fruit and a supple elegance in the Burgundian style. The fresh acidity made it a perfect accompaniment to a charcuterie tray. This is cold-climate winemaking at its best. Hardie says his vines and barrels come from France, his terroir from Ontario, and the taste and nose from him. Have a look at www.normanhardie.com.

Many Prince Edward County wineries focus on sparkling wines. We sampled several, including Whitecap from Hinterland (www.hinterlandwine.com). Made with the Charmat method, it’s a crisp and inexpensive sparkler that could be Canada’s answer to Prosecco. Hinterland also makes some sparkling wines in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. Its best is Ancestral Method Rosé made with the Gamay grape.

The Gamay surprise


Ontario wines have matured to a level that many are ready to compete in the world market—especially if they play up the perfect match of the terroir to the Gamay noir grape. Gamay has been sullied in popular imagination by sour and fizzy Beaujolais Nouveau that typically appears on shelves in the U.S. just in time to spoil Thanksgiving. But real Beaujolais—the French wines sold as Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais Cru—is a wonderful wine with bright raspberry or wild cherry notes.

Some Ontario winemakers bleed their grapes for rosés or use early-picked Gamay for sparkling wine. But the best of the Ontario Gamay wines—like the Tawse Gamay Noir Unfiltered (www.tawsewinery.ca) and the range of Malivoire wines (www.malivoire.com) built on Gamay—resemble the Beaujolais Cru wines from Fleurie in France. These wines have depth, utterly delicious fruit, and a rounded acidity. They are great with cheeses and lighter meats such as chicken, turkey, or rabbit. Tawse, by the way, was named Winery of the Year in Canada in 2016.

Exploring the world of Ontario wines


vineyards in Ontario This tasting piqued our interest in Ontario wines, especially since so many wineries have figured out how to ripen Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to produce wines that promise a future for superb reds. We expect to be heading up to Ontario wine country to explore in greater depth. If you’d like to do the same, start your planning with the Wine Country Ontario web site at winecountryontario.ca. The wineries have put together a comprehensive guide to visits that is one of the best marketing examples we’ve seen for a North American wine region. The vineyard photo above and the map below are courtesy of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario.

Ontario wine regions

09

11 2016

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

Toronto Chinatown awash with flavors

Exterior of King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown
“Growing up in Chinatown,” said chef and culinary educator John Lee, “was a Duddy Kravitz kind of experience.” He was making a very Canadian reference to Mordecai Richler’s nostalgic novel of the Canadian Jewish immigrant experience. John was showing us around his childhood haunts in Toronto’s Old Chinatown. (It’s not to be confused with at least five other Chinatowns east of Toronto proper.)

Toronto Chinatown street scene The Toronto neighborhood radiating from the corner of Spadina Avenue and West Dundas Street was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood for the first half of the 20th century. As the Jewish population moved north after World War II, Chinese immigrants flooded into the area. Of Korean descent, Lee waxed nostalgic about his Chinese and Jewish friends as well as the old-time Jewish shopkeepers and deli owners.

Fruit stand in Toronto Chinatown Although new money from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has poured into Chinatown over the last few decades, the neighborhood retains that bustling edge of striving newcomers. Shoppers crowd the streets. Merchandise seems to spill out of stores packed to the rafters. Street merchants are always ready to haggle. It’s hard to tell whether the neighborhood has more fruit stands selling mangosteens and sweet sops, or more restaurants promising congee and crispy duck.

Taste of Chinatown


John Lee pours tea In such a restaurant-packed neighborhood, it’s useful to have a guide who is in the trade. John’s stories continued over a raft of dishes at the colorful, well-established King’s Noodle Restaurant (396 Spadina Ave., 416-598-1817, www.kingsnoodle.ca). We started with excellent shrimp dumplings—one of the ways to judge the quality of a Chinese kitchen. Side dishes of Chinese broccoli (kai lan) in oyster sauce and a Yeung Chow fried rice (made with barbecued pork bits) set up the main focus of our meal. John took the lead, ordering a barbecue plate with barbecued pork ribs, soya chicken, and crispy pork belly (below). As we left, John confessed that King’s Noodle is one of his reliable fall-backs for great barbecue. Duly noted—we’ll be back.

Barbecue plate at King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown

24

10 2016

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272, hapaizakaya.com), a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, sottovoce.ca) has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.

SHRIMP PUTTANESCA


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.

21

10 2016

Indulge at Rashers with all bacon, all the time

Rashers in Toronto's Leslieville neighborhood
There’s something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. Rashers opened in Toronto’s Leslieville neighborhood in 2012 with a laser focus on the bacon sandwich. Owners John Clark and Richard Mulley firmly believe that bacon is more than a trendy garnish or a handy meat for foodie experimentation. In the Rashers universe, bacon is a culinary building block. Not just for BLTs anymore, bacon is the foundation for a whole range of sandwiches. It is a new standard under which hand-held cuisine can march forward into a gastronomic future.

Assembling bacon sandwiches at Rashers in Toronto The Leslieville storefront (948 Queen St. East, 416-710-8220, www.rashers.ca) is as minimal as the menu. Hardly more than 20 feet wide at the street, it consists of a few high stools lined up along a window counter. The grill dominates the back of the room, and when you walk in, it smells like heaven. Or breakfast. Actually, it smells like bacon, and it’s not uncommon for a certain amount of smoke to be rising from the sizzling grill. (There’s a second location in Little Portugal at 182 Ossington Ave., 647-346-8230.)

This being Toronto, peameal bacon appears in several of the sandwich choices. Perth Pork Products, a Slow Food farm a few hours west of Toronto that specializes in heritage breeds, brines the bacon for Rashers. The Hogtown grilled cheese, for example, features peameal bacon with cheddar cheese and ale mustard on multigrain bread. For a buck more, you can add a fried egg. In fact, Rashers encourages clients to mix up the offerings to build their own bacon sandwiches.

A world of bacon


Beer BLT at Rashers in Toronto Rashers actually embraces bacon in all its forms. In addition to peameal, the shop also builds sandwiches with strip bacon (“streaky bacon” to the Irish and Brits) and English bacon. That last is cured in a similar fashion to peameal bacon but is cut from the back of the loin so that the medallion of meat is surrounded by a nice ring of fat.

When we stopped in for an afternoon snack (so to speak), many of the folks ordering takeout seemed to be partial to the brie and bacon sandwich. It contains a heap of bacon strips, a generous slice of brie, and a topping of caramelized onions. The cooks slather the warm bun with garlic aioli. That all seemed a bit much for 4 p.m., so we went with the Rashers version of a classic BLT. The shop’s twist on tradition is to serve it on a ciabatta bun spread with beer mayo.

We were in Hogtown heaven.

18

10 2016

Peameal bacon shows the salty side of Hogtown

Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
“The peameal bacon sandwich is Toronto’s most unique food,” says Robert Biancolin, who runs Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market with his brother Maurice. “It’s like what the Philly cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.”

The Biancolin brothers’ bakery is one of the busiest spots in the bustling market. Most customers wait patiently in line to place their orders and then walk away with peameal bacon sandwiches wrapped in shiny silver foil. Those with big appetites might also order one of Carousel’s melt-in-your mouth butter tarts, another Toronto specialty.

peameal-bacon-robert-biancolin Robert and Maurice have been serving peameal bacon sandwiches in the market for 40 years. During a lull in business, Robert (at right) enthusiastically relates some of the history of Toronto’s signature style of back bacon. He draws a rough diagram of a pig, then shows us where the loin is cut. The entire loin is immersed in a sweet pickle brine. That’s a mix of brown sugar, spices, and a very concentrated salt solution. After curing, the loin is rolled in cornmeal.

It wasn’t always done that way. English immigrant William Davies invented the treatment back in the days when the market was held in the open air. Brining the bacon preserved it. So successful was the sweet and salty back bacon that Davies grew his operation into one of the largest pork processors in Canada. He made “Hogtown” a nickname for Toronto that persists to this day. Davies’ contribution to Torontonian cuisine has also had staying power, but with a few modifications. Davies rolled his pork loins in crushed dried yellow peas. But peas go rancid, so cornmeal replaced the original peameal by the end of the 19th century.

Not just for breakfast


Peameal bacon is known in the U.S. as “Canadian bacon.” When both English and Canadian back bacon was being shipped to the U.S. in the 19th century, an importer of the English variety (which is cured differently) insisted on calling the other product “Canadian bacon.” It was supposed to be an insult, but it’s actually stuck as a badge of honor.

Peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery in Toronto Far less fatty than strip bacon (made from pork belly), peameal bacon satisfies the urge for sweet and salty meat. Although it sometimes appears on breakfast menus, most Torontonians devour it as a sandwich of several grilled slices on a naked soft bun. It’s intensely salty and full of umami — sort of like getting a bacon rush.

Robert declines to comment on how much bacon the bakery goes through in a day. “It’s a popular sandwich,” he concedes, smiling.

Best of all, the peameal bacon sandwich is a Toronto original in a city that has enthusiastically embraced food from all over the rest of the world.

For more about Carousel Bakery, see the vendor description at St. Lawrence Market.

15

10 2016

Toronto fills its larder at St. Lawrence Market

Banner outside St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
Toronto is like the grandmother who always wants to feed you. In fact, banners hanging from Old Town light poles actually exhort visitors to bring their appetites. After a whirlwind visit to Canada’s biggest city just before Canadian Thanksgiving, we have to conclude that Toronto is a good place to “come on an empty stomach.” Torontonians have cultivated a sophisticated contemporary gastronomic scene that draws on foodways from all over Europe and Asia. Great little ethnic restaurants dot the streets of the neighborhoods. At the same time, many of the best restaurants feature market-driven contemporary cuisine that showcases the best products from Canadian farms and orchards.

Historic market continues to thrive


exterior of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto Toronto has had a permanent central food market since 1830—four years before the town was even called Toronto. Today’s St. Lawrence Market was built around Old City Hall and opened in 1902. The facade of Old City Hall is still visible inside the market, and the former offices were converted into meeting and display space in the 1970s.

The bustling food market, with its main entrance on Front Street at the corner of Jarvis, continues to flourish. The busiest day is Saturday, when both the main market and the adjacent farmers’ market open at 5 a.m. Closed on Sunday and Monday, St. Lawrence Market opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and closes late in the afternoon. (For full details on hours and special events, see www.stlawrencemarket.com.)

Interior of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto We always like to check out fresh food markets wherever we visit. It tells us volumes about local specialties and about what might be in season. We visited on our first afternoon in town to get a preview of what might be on the menus during our stay. A quick perusal of the butcher stalls suggests that Torontonians are keen on “tomahawk” steaks (a very large ribeye), filet mignon wrapped in bacon (on sale at six for $35), racks of Ontario beef back ribs, Ontario lamb, and (of course) peameal bacon. (More about that in the next post.)

market-eaters-300 The produce aisles had plenty of exotic vegetables from South America, California, and Asia. But even in October, Ontario growers were still harvesting strawberries and currants along with seasonal apples. Bakeries also abound in the market, and some of them make sandwiches. Many shoppers were also diners, sitting on stools at narrow shelves to enjoy their meals. Some take their food outdoors to the picnic tables outside the market’s lower level.

Farmers’ market dominates Saturday


apples at Farmers Market at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto Nothing beats the Saturday farmers’ market for getting a reading on local products. With the old North Market building torn down and the site under construction, a voluminous white tent south of St. Lawrence Market on Esplanade houses the farmers’ market. When the weather cooperates, many vendors set up on surrounding sidewalks, and fall offerings included big bouquets of flowers and heaps of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. Growers come to the market from a considerable distance. Shop for chicken or duck eggs, and you’ll likely buy from a woman wearing the long print dress and simple lace bonnet associated with some of the Mennonite and Amish sects.

12

10 2016

It’s smart to get Luckee in Toronto

Bar area at Susur Lee restaurant Luckee in Toronto
Susur Lee was always my favorite contestant on season two of Top Chef Masters, but it took a while until I got to eat his food instead of watching him make it on TV. This year I finally made it to his jewel box contemporary Chinese restaurant, Luckee, at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel (328 Wellington St. W; 416-935-0400, luckeerestaurant.com). This polished restaurant serves some of the best meals in an already food-obsessed city. Much more than a gastronomic shrine directed by a celebrity chef, it’s flat-out good fun. I’m not the only one who thinks so. On my last visit Will Smith was in town shooting yet another movie where Toronto stands in as a generic North American city. He and his entourage took over a large piece of the bar area to eat and drink the night away. (That’s the bar area above.)

Chef Susur Lee of Luckee restaurant in Toronto In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Susur Lee (right) is one of the most influential chefs of the last few decades, widely admired for his keen marriage of classical French technique and Chinese fine dining traditions. He is as well known in Singapore (where his restaurant Club Chinois recently changed its name to Tinglok Heen) and Hong Kong (where he started as an apprentice in the kitchen of the Peninsula) as in Toronto. Critics have tried to pigeonhole Lee as a “nouvelle chinoise” or a “fusion” chef, but what they often miss about his food is the reverence for traditional Chinese dishes.

As he put it when we sat down for a few minutes, “Invention happens all the time. Someone had to be the first to make har gow [steamed shrimp dumplings]. Now, maybe centuries later, we all make them, but that doesn’t detract from how good they are.”

Susur Lee makes Luckee Duck Dinner is definitely a treat at Luckee. Lee presents traditional dishes like Hunan wok-fried lotus root and Chinese celery with great panache, and his version of moo shi duck lives up to its name of “Luckee Duck” with deep flavors and a range of textures. (That’s Luckee Duck here on the left.) Lee has a special place in his cuisine for the traditional small dishes of dim sum. He keeps about a dozen on the dinner menu and offers them at all hours in the bar.

To get a full appreciation, though, it’s best to make a reservation for the weekend dim sum brunch, which is arguably even more fun than dinner. And, if possible, it’s even more crowded, so try to book ahead. One of the classic items on the dim sum menu (and the weekend carts) is siu mai, a steamed dumpling filled with meat or fish and vegetables and formed to capture steam inside the wrapper. Lee was kind enough to provide his recipe for Luckee Siu Mai. During brunch, he gilds the lily by placing a slice of scallop on top of each dumpling. You’ll know that you’ve formed it correctly if, when you bite into it, the dumpling exudes a warm fog of flavors similar to the gasp of soufflé when you puncture the top with a fork.

Susur Lee's Siu Mai at Luckee in Toronto

CHEF SUSUR LEE’S LUCKEE SIU MAI

Makes 24 dumplings

Ingredients

454g (16 oz) chicken (a 50/50 mix of white and dark), minced
8g (1 1/2 tsp) salt
16g (4 1/2 tsp) potato starch
360g (12 oz) shrimp, minced
120g (4 oz) wood ear mushrooms (fresh or rehydrated), thinly sliced
16g (4 tsp) sugar
4g (1 3/4 tsp) white pepper
15ml (3 tsp) sesame oil
5g (2 tsp) dried orange skin
24 gyoza wrappers (or won ton wrappers trimmed into rounds)

Directions

Mix chicken meat with salt and potato starch until combined. Add shrimp and mix. Then add mushrooms and mix. Add sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, and dried orange skin. Mix again.

Divide mixture evenly into 24 balls. (They will be about a rounded tablespoon each). Place a ball in center of a wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper and gather up the edges like a purse, pleating around the top and leaving a small opening to vent the filling.

Steam in bamboo steamer for 15-20 minutes and enjoy.

02

12 2015

PEI potatoes make rich cake for dessert

root beer chocolate cakeMy gastronomic adventures on Prince Edward Island were not limited to shellfish. PEI is famous for its potatoes — the tiny island grows more than a quarter of the entire Canadian crop.

PotatoesChef Ilona Daniel of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown consults for the potato board, which was handing out all kinds of recipes at the PEI Internaional Shellfish Festival. Most of them were predictable — potato gnocchi, potato pancakes, potato pizza, etc. But Daniel came up with this delicious cake that uses mashed potatoes and Greek yogurt to create a dense, moist texture that keeps for days. She was giving away samples, and once I tasted it, I knew I had to get the recipe. I cut the recipe to one-quarter of the one given here, and cooked it in a 6-inch springform pan (see photo above). The results were identical.

CHEF ILONA’S ROOTBEER CHOCOLATE PEI POTATO CAKE

Ingredients

1 cup mashed and hot PEI Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cup water, warm
1 cup full-fat (9%) Greek yogurt
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon root beer extract
4 large eggs
1 cup cocoa
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13x2-inch baking pan using butter or non-stick oil spray, and dust with cocoa powder. Remove excess cocoa powder and set aside.

2. Whisk mashed potatoes, water, and yogurt until a smooth mixture is formed.

3. Beat butter, brown sugar and root beer extract for 4-5 minutes with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

4. Add 2 eggs and mix until blended, scrape down sides of bowl; add remaining eggs and continue mixing until well blended.

5. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir to combine.

6. At low speed, alternate adding the sifted dry ingredients with the potato mixture into the egg mixture until just incorporated. ****DO NOT OVERMIX. Fold in chocolate chips.

7. Place batter into the prepared pan; smooth out top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly and begins to move away from the sides of the pan.

8. Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake or drizzle with an icing of your choice.

9. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Cake also freezes well

04

10 2013

Winning shellfish dish in PEI chef cookoff

Finalists cookJudging the final round of the Garland International Chef Challenge turned out to be a big deal. Instead of hiding in a back room while we tasted, Dominic Serio and I sat on the main stage while the two finalists cooked on the main floor of the hall in front of the stage. Chef Alain Bossé paced back and forth for an hour offering commentary and gently kidding both contestants.

With $10,000 on the line, the two finalists gave us their hand-printed menus. Marc Lepine was preparing lobster poached in orange beurre blanc with crab meatballs, miso mayo, fennel sponge, wild rice crispies, and lobster jus. Ryan Morrison proposed “packed” lobster tail, oyster and crab hushpuppies, cauliflower purée, chanterelle and spearmint “salad,” and dill-pickled mustard seeds. They had to complete the ambitious dishes from prep to plate in one hour.

00 - Marc's dishBoth competitors stayed calm and controlled as the clock ticked away. My view from the stage let me look down on their dishes (and the backs of their heads). Both chefs were methodical, executing their complex garnishes first — Lepine’s fennel sponge (made with agar-agar) and wild rice crispies (uncooked wild rice puffed in hot oil), and Morrison’s dill-pickled mustard seeds. Then they marshaled each segment of the dish in an order so that everything hot would be done last for presentation.

Even the way they chose to plate showed the different mindsets of two tremendously talented chefs. Lepine saw his plate as a series of featured items linked by sauces, and that’s how he plated them. Morrison saw his plate as a gestalt of flavors, and he literally piled one element on top of another. The final judging was close but unanimous. Both plates were gorgeous (and delicious). They were very different, but in the end, tiny details made the difference. Morrison’s pickled mustard seeds really thrust the shellfish flavors front and center, while Lepine’s bland fennel sponge detracted from the seafood. Ryan Morrison, whose dish is pictured below, went back to Vancouver $10,000 richer than when he had come.
00-ryan's dish

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10 2013