The songs of Autumn

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run."
- from "To Autumn" by John Keats

Just like I fell in love with peaches in the summer, I've become addicted to cauliflower this fall. It's a vegetable I was always ambivalent about, but now that I've started roasting it I can't get enough. Dishes like this one, full of roasted vegetables and accessorized with melted cheese, are perfect for the days of mid-fall, when the sun sets earlier every day and we need a coat when we step outside. But as Keats reminds us, fall has a special beauty of its own.

"Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too."
- from "To Autumn" by John Keats

Roasted Cauliflower, Cremini, Gruyere and Rosemary Gratin

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (first amount)
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil  (second amount)
extra olive oil to rub baking dish with
kosher salt
Florets from 1 small head cauliflower, each about 1 1/2" long and cut with one flat side
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered if large or halved if small
3/4 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs (she recommends using an English muffin)
1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (first amount)
3/4 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (second amount)
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large heavy-duty sheet pan with parchment paper. Toss the cauliflower and mushrooms with 3 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Spread the vegetables out in one layer on the pan sheet, flipping the florets so they're cut side down. Roast until nicely browned and tender, about 28 to 30 minutes. 

In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 2 tsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp chopped rosemary and a pinch of salt. Mix well and set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees.

Rub a little olive oil all over the inside of a small baking dish. (I used a 9-inch round baking dish.) 

Transfer roasted vegetables to the baking dish and arrange in one layer across the bottom. Sprinkle the remaining rosemary and the cheese over the vegetables. Drizzle the cream over the vegetables. Scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the top, leaving some vegetables peeking out.

Bake until the crumbs are well-browned and the cream has bubbled and reduced, about 18 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Foodservice Friday: Tich

Friday, October 23, 2015

All photos courtesy of Tich
A few weeks ago, I ordered takeout from an Indian restaurant. I'd been looking forward to trying Tich since I read its terrific review in the Globe and Mail, and even more since my friend Audra recommended it. I couldn't wait to try their food.

When I got home from the restaurant with my takeout, though, I realized they'd forgotten to put one of my items in the bag. I called to let them know, not really sure what they could do. I didn't want to spend 25 minutes in the car just to pick up dessert, but maybe they could take note, and make good on it the next time I was in the area.

When I called, the owner picked up the phone. She was sorry to hear they'd made a mistake and wanted to make it up to me. Not sometime in the future, but right then.

And that's how I found myself, fifteen minutes later, opening my front door to the owner of Tich, and receiving the small paper bag that she'd brought my dessert in. Bear in mind, they don't currently deliver food, and even if they did, I live outside of their delivery area. Oh, and when I tried to pay her for her troubles, she refused to take my money.

That was my introduction to Tich, but let's be clear - the food was so amazing I'd go back even without the personalized service. The chicken tikka masala was the best I've ever eaten. And that dessert that was hand-delivered? The gulab jamun (described as "milk dumplings, soaked in rose-scented sugar syrup") was as dreamy as it sounds.

I later asked the owner, Karan Kalia, a few questions, and she was as lovely by email as she is in person. Her background is in commerce, and after she moved from India to Canada, she took a job as an administrative and HR manager. The whole time, the idea of owning a restaurant was in the back of her mind, but she took her time making it happen. One day she was driving by a building that was available for lease. She called to inquire, and in her own words, "Before I could realize, we had a restaurant in the making!" I wasn't surprised to hear that, for her, the greatest pleasure in owning a restaurant is making her customers happy, and seeing them come back again and again.

She told me she's always had a flair for entertaining - now, she just extends it from her living room to her restaurant. Based on my experience, she has a flair for service, too. Having seen the inside of her lovely restaurant when I picked up my meal, I can't wait to go back. But next time I won't depend on her generosity to bring me dessert - I'll enjoy my meal right there.

2314 Lakeshore Blvd West
(647) 349-8424

(All opinions are my own, and I received no compensation for this post.)

No-ingredient cookies

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Did you ever want to do some baking, and have the ingredients for … nothing?

One Sunday afternoon last spring, I wanted to bake cookies for my daughter’s school lunches. The only problem is that I try to minimize the tempting ingredients in my house. So unless I’ve planned ahead, I don’t typically have fun ingredients like chocolate chips, toffee bits, or condensed milk on hand. That particular afternoon, I was particularly ingredient-challenged: a quick search of the cupboards showed I was also completely out of peanut butter and cinnamon.

In other words, I had the ingredients for none of my cookie recipes.

That’s where a little ingenuity came into play. I made these cookies based on the staples I always carry (flour, sugar, eggs) and the tin of cocoa in the cupboard. I wasn’t expecting much, but they received rave reviews from my daughter, who couldn’t get over how much she loved them.

I waited a long time to post this recipe, but it's a keeper – in fact, the same daughter has since taken a batch back to university with her. And although I’ve also made them with chunks of Skor bars (pictured), they’re wonderful without. Keep these cookies in mind the next time you're caught with no ingredients in your cupboard.

Cocoa Cookies
This makes a smallish batch; you can double the recipe.

1 1/4 sticks butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup flour
2 Skor bars, cut into chunks (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Beat butter and sugar on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until light and creamy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat 2 more minutes, until completely combined. Add cocoa, baking soda and kosher salt, and beat on low until just mixed. Remove beater, and stir in flour with a spoon until just combined.

Add Skor bar chunks. (Or don’t! They’re great without.)

Form into balls on cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Let sit on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before removing to cool.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Today was a pretty good day for the Pollock family. For the first time ever, all four of us were qualified to vote. With the Canadian election just over a week away, and with both girls home, we decided to vote together in an advance poll. I'm so proud of my daughters who follow politics as closely as I do, and who wouldn't have missed voting for anything. (I still remember my oldest daughter's first election, when my youngest was so upset at being the only one who couldn't vote, she refused to come out of her room.) One of my favourite parts of the day - other than the post-voting selfie - was the discussion about politics that continued on the way home and into the evening.

On the night of October 19, we'll watch the election returns from three different residences. If we're lucky, we'll each have something as delicious and comforting as this wonderful soup for dinner. No matter what your political bent, you'll love it too!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup
(from Smitten Kitchen)

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped small
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup half-and-half
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 - 2 bay leaves
kosher salt
4 cups broccoli florets and stems, chopped small (about two small to medium heads)
1 cup diced carrots (1 big or 2 small)
8 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheddar cheese (note: this soup is very cheesy. You could probably cut back to 6 ounces cheese without losing any flavour - although it was wonderful like this!)

Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook until golden, 3 to 4 minutes, then gradually whisk in the half-and-half until smooth. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Add the broccoli and carrots to the broth mixture and simmer until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and adjust seasoning if needed, but err on the cautious side with the salt because the cheese will add a bit. Puree the soup to the consistency you like - chunky or completely smooth - with an immersion blender. Add cheese, put back on the stove, and whisk until melted, about a minute.

Serve with homemade croutons or extra grated cheese (optional). The soup is also terrific just on its own.

Cooking for two

Sunday, October 4, 2015
Now that there's just two of us at home, I'll have to learn to cook all over again. I'm used to cooking for four, which means if I'm not careful, our fridge gets full of leftovers that can take days to finish. Freezing leftovers is a good option, but not everything freezes well. And I'd rather make smaller amounts so we have some variety, rather than pulling out increasingly smaller containers of yesterday's (or the day before's) dinner.

Maybe it was the "for two" that appealed to me about this recipe. Or maybe it was the great flavours - asparagus, pancetta, parmesan - all wrapped together in one dish. Whatever it was, this asparagus side dish was a real winner. So good, in fact, that it made me long for leftovers.

Sauteed Asparagus with Pancetta and Parmigiano for Two

8 medium-large asparagus spears
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
1/2 ounce/15 grams pancetta, coarsely chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
scant 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp finely grated parmigiano-reggiano

Slice the asparagus on a sharp angle into pieces that are 2 inches long.

In a medium (9-10 inch) nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil and 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add pancetta and cook until crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and transfer pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add asparagus to the skillet, season with salt, and return pan to the heat, raising it to medium-high. Cook stirring frequently, until all of the asparagus pieces are nicely browned, up to 10 minutes. They will still be firm, but not crunchy.

Remove pan from the heat and add remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter and the balsamic vinegar (it will sizzle). Stir right away and keep stirring until butter has melted. Transfer asparagus to a serving dish and garnish with Parmigiano and pancetta crisps.

Foodservice Friday: Mai Bistro

Friday, October 2, 2015
The patio. All photos courtesy of Mai Bistro's Facebook page
Last week I mentioned I’d start a new feature this week. Twice a month on Fridays, I’ll write about a restaurant I’ve visited (and loved! Only good reviews here). Whenever possible, I’ll share something about the restaurant or the chef.

And for the record, I’m paying for my own meal at all the restaurants I visit. I choose them because I want to visit them, and my opinions are entirely my own.

I visited Mai Bistro a couple of weeks ago with my friend Dale. The location was perfect, just steps away from our church. We sat on the tiny front patio not knowing anything about the restaurant except that it served a combination of Asian and South American food, and offered share plates, which would let us sample an array of dishes.

I loved everything we ordered. If I had to pick main course favourites, I’d go with the lamb curry spring rolls (easily the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten) and the Vietnamese style pork tacos. The next time I visit, I’ll start my order with these two items. And my favourite overall dish was the peaches poached in port wine and served with mango ice cream. Whenever I see a menu item this simple, I know it’s going to be wonderful.

After I came home, I read a little about the chef/owner Manh Nguyen, and realized why our meal was so spectacular. A Japanese chef by training, he was the sous chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Caracas Venezuela. He returned to Toronto as the chef at the popular Supermarket restaurant, where he was named one of the Top 10 Chefs in Toronto in 2005.

The evening we ate at Mai Bistro, Nguyen came over to talk to us, and I found him friendly and unpretentious. I later chatted with him for the purposes of this blog post, and asked about his most memorable culinary experience. He told me this story:

Five years ago, he was participating in an Iron Chef competition in Toronto, hosted by Matt Galloway, one of Toronto’s best-known morning show hosts. The judges included popular Toronto chef Susur Lee, well-known international chef Martin Yan, and the acclaimed food writer Andrew Chase. One of the dishes Nguyen prepared was a smoked trout prepared in tea. One of the judges – who shall remain nameless – took a bite of the trout and announced, “This is the best salmon I’ve ever eaten in my life!”

Nguyen the man is charming, and Nguyen the chef is unbelievably talented. Mai Bistro is one of those amazing little restaurants you happen upon by word of mouth. I tried it on the recommendation of Sarah from my favourite bookstore. Now I hope I can spread the word!

4906 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON

(647) 343-3130