Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Punjabi Fish Curry with Bengali-Style Marinade

An ardent fan of Indian cuisine and also of Madhur Jaffrey, I couldn't wait to try out her new cookbook, Curry Nation, which was the latest addition to my ever expanding collection — Imelda had shoes, I have cookbooks! Rich and diverse, Indian cuisine is a jewel among the world's culinary empires, with flavours as exotic as its climate and as varied as its people. Throughout history India has been invaded and occupied by others, which not only had a major influence on the nations culture but also on its cuisine. Inspired by the fabulous recipes and gorgeous photography of Madhur Jaffrey's most recent cookbook, which pays homage to Britain's love affair with Indian cuisine, I decided to combine two of her new recipes to create Punjabi Fish Curry with Bengali-Style Marinade.

The doyenne of Indian cuisine, Madhur Jaffrey

I adapted my curry recipe from Jaffrey's Hot Punjabi King Prawn Curry, but used the marinade from her Macher Jhol, or Fish in Bengali-style sauce. Indian cooks often make their own curry spice blends to suit whatever dish they're preparing — their own personal signature — so my creative combination of flavours was not without precedence! As Madur says, "If there's a common denominator in all Indian foods, it's perhaps the imaginative use of spices." There we go. We're simpatico.

Madhur Jaffreys newest cookbook, and the latest addition 
to my ever expanding cooking library - Curry Nation

Starting with the Bengali-style dry marinade of ground coriander, turmeric, salt, lemon juice, and red chilli powder, I then added two tablespoons of plain yogurt and used the mixture to coat a pound of fresh hake cut up into large bite-size chunks, although any firm white fish would do. The fish is covered and refrigerated for at least an hour, allowing the marinade to work its magic. 

A Bengali-Style dry marinade of ground coriander, turmeric, salt, 
lemon juice, and red chilli powder

The hake is cut up into large 1 1/2-inch bite size chunks

The hake is tossed with the marinade plus two tablespoons of plain yogurt, 
then covered and chilled for at least one hour

When you're ready to cook the curry, two onions are finely chopped and added to 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds which have been sautéed in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. The onions are cooked for about 15-20 minutes, until they become nicely browned. A tablespoon of chopped garlic is then added, the heat is reduced to low and cooked for 2 minutes. A teaspoon of turmeric is stirred in and the mixture is allowed to cook for another minute. 

Two small onions finely chopped

In a large saucepan, cumin seeds are sautéed in four tablespoons of oil for few seconds

The onions are added and cooked until they become browned all over, about 15-20 minutes

Garlic and turmeric are added once the onion has browned

Although the recipe calls for two tomatoes to be roughly chopped, I used a handful of Campari tomatoes instead, which are larger than cherry tomatoes, but smaller and rounder than plum tomatoes. They held their shape nicely as the curry reduced. Two or three hot green chillies are then seeded, chopped and added to the curry, which continues to cook for another two minutes. I always use surgical gloves to seed and chop hot green chillies as they can sting and irritate skin. Scraping out the seeds and pith makes a curry less powerful, but if you like heat, go for it.

Fresh tomatoes and two hot green chillies are chopped - I always use plastic gloves 
to chop chillies so it doesn't sting if I touch my mouth or eyes

The chopped green chillies are added to the onion mixture

Some garam masala is then added and cooked for one minute

Chopped small Campari tomatoes and half a teaspoon of chilli flakes 
are added and cooked for two minutes

The tomatoes are cooked for about two minutes

The sauce evolves in complexity so quickly as it cooks

Some boiling water is added to the tomatoes as they cook down, 
and it's beginning to look like a curry - the aroma is wonderful!

The sauce becomes much richer and develops into a thick sauce 

The hake and marinade are added to the curry and cooked until the fish is cooked though

As the sauce continues to cook, the flavour becomes much richer and more complex. The hake and Bengali-style marinade are then added and cooked over a medium heat until the fish is cooked through. Before serving, a sprinkle of garam masala and handful of chopped cilantro are added to the curry, which is then transferred to a decorative bowl or for an extra flourish, traditional Indian copper serving dishes. A bowl of steamed basmati rice and easy Eggplant Bharta are a great addition to this delicious Punjabi Fish Curry.

The fish is cooked and the curry is complete

Sprinkled with the remaining garam masala and chopped cilantro, 
the Punjabi Hake Curry is ready to be served

Aged Basmati rice with a dollop of ghee and chopped cilantro

Eggplant Bharta with chopped cilantro - healthy, flavourful and delicious

And dinner is served!

Hot Punjabi Hake Curry with Bengali-Style Marinade
Serves 2
Adapted from a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's 'Curry Nation'

2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp mild red chilli powder
2 tbsp plain yogurt

For the curry:
1 lb hake, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tsp turmeric
2-3 hot green chillies, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium tomatoes, or 8 Campari tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves

Mix together all of the ingredients for the marinade. Coat the hake chunks in the marinade, then cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

When ready to cook the curry, pour the oil into a karhai, wok or large heavy saucepan, and set over medium heat. Spoon in the cumin seeds, swirl and brown for 10 seconds. Add the chopped onions and sauté for about 15 minutes or until brown all over. Add the garlic, reduce the heat to low and stir for 2 minutes. Mix in the turmeric and stir for another minute.

Now add the green chillies, increase the heat to medium and stir for one minute. Mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons of the garam masala and stir for one minute. Add half the salt and all of the tomatoes and the chilli flakes. Cook for two minutes, then add 4 fluid ounces of boiling water, stirring to combine to make a thick sauce. Allow to simmer for three minutes, then add the remaining salt.

Stir in the hake and its marinade and cook over a medium heat until the fish is cooked through. Sprinkle in the remaining garam masala, fold in the chopped cilantro and serve.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pan: A Taste of Greek Cuisine on 'The Danforth'

A little bit of Mykonos is alive and well in the heart of the Danforth, one of Toronto's most vibrant and cosmopolitan neighbourhoods. Bustling with interesting shops, friendly boutiques and lots of terrific restaurants, the neighbourhood, one of North America's largest Greek communities, is also home to Pan, a wonderful Greek and Mediterranean restaurant run by Chris and Soula Kyriakasis, who embrace customers seven days a week with their natural Mediterranean warmth, gracious hospitality and authentic Greek cuisine. 

Pan's charming bar with chandeliers and tin ceiling

The evening we arrived for dinner happened to coincide with Taste For Life, an annual event to benefit Fife House, which we found out is Canada's biggest provider of housing for people with HIV/AIDS. Pan was one of 77 Toronto restaurants participating with the drive this night, each donating 25% of their sales from the evening to the Fife charity, in addition to contributions left by other philanthropic diners. Unknown to us, we arrived in the midst of this event and were thrilled to get one of the only remaining available tables — 6:30pm on a weeknight...who'd figure we'd need reservations!

Pan is considered to be the most romantic Greek restaurant on the Danforth 

Rich, warm and inviting, Pan is certainly one of the prettiest and most romantic Greek restaurants in the city, with deep persimmon walls, warm wood finishes, floor-to-ceiling wine racks and a parade of attractive bronze chandeliers with golden husk shades and twinkling crystals. Combined with the warm candlelight and attractive table settings, there's a seductive ambiance to the place.

The menu is full of delicious Greek and Mediterranean dishes

The menu features modern twists on traditional Greek dishes to create a contemporary culinary experience rooted in authenticity. Fresh flavours and a thoughtful wine menu make this restaurant and exciting find. We started our evening with a bottle of Villa Rubini Pinot Grigio from Friuli. Velvety and fruity, it was a delicious wine that paired beautifully with our selection of appetizers, or meze, that we ordered for the table. Our lovely server Penelope suggested we try the Trilogy of Spreads served with feta, olives and bulgur pilaf. We chose the Tzatziki, Taramosalata and Melitzanosalata, which were all excellent and arrived with a platter of warm and glistening homemade pita that was bathed in garlic and fragrant Greek olive oil. The tzatziki was memorable, and I asked...it was homemade in the kitchen.

We ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio, a Villa Rubini from Friuli, Italy 

The first of the mezes we ordered were hot and fragrant garlic and olive oil infused pita 
that are homemade in Pan's kitchen

The pita arrived with our order of Taramosalata cod roe spread, 
Tzatziki pressed yogurt and cucumber, and Melitzanosalata, a roasted eggplant purée 
with olive oil and garlic, served with feta, olives, cucumber and bulgur pilaf

With over 15 appetizers to choose from, in addition to six sensational salads and their signature Avgolemono soup, a traditional egg and lemon chicken soup, with dill and baby spinach, it was difficult to decide which meze to have next. As flames erupted around the restaurant amid squeals of delight and a chorus of "Opaahhhhh!", our decision was made — Saganki — a generous slice of kefalotyri cheese arrived, flambéed tableside with ouzo. Crispy on the outside and soft and gooey in the middle, it was gone in minutes.

Our Saganaki arrives table-side and set aflame...opaahhhhh!

Glorious melted Saganaki - Kefalotyri cheese flambéed tableside with ouzo...delish!
Crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey in the middle - it was gone in minutes

Horiatiki Village Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, sweet peppers, 
olives and feta cheese in an extra virgin olive oil lemon dressing

Pan's selection of entrées is extensive, with dishes from the grill including Rack of Lamb, New York Black Angus Striploin and Syracusae Smoked Double Pork Chop, as well as dishes from the sea like Grilled Octopus, Jumbo Grilled Shrimp and Sautéed Sea Scallops, as well as a medley of Greek specialties such as Moussaka, Arni Yiouvetsi, Stifatho and Souvlaki, and Pan's daily $25 Prix-Fixe menu. Everything sounded so delicious, we decided to taste everything and ordered Pan's Mermaid Platter, a land and sea platter with grilled calamari, jumbo shrimp, mussels, rack of lamb, lemon roasted chicken breast and stuffed quail, served with mini potatoes and pan seared vegetables. It was perfect shared among four, but would be a hearty feast for two.

Our main course, Pan's Mermaid Platter, a land and sea assortment of grilled calamari, 
jumbo shrimp, mussels, rack of lamb, lemon roasted chicken breast and stuffed quail,
 served with mini potatoes and pan seared vegetables

Perfect for the four of us to share, it would be a feast for two!

The dessert menu was equally inspiring with eight traditional Greek sweets including Baklava, Loukoumade deep fried honey balls, Fig and Port Ice Cream and Galaktoboureko, a phyllo pastry wrapped custard which Penelope also enhanced with some Loukoumade which were garnished with distilled Greek honey, cinnamon and chopped walnuts.

Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek custard wrapped dessert in a thin layer of phyllo pastry 
with Loukoumades, which are deep fried honey balls topped with distilled Greek honey, 
cinnamon and chopped walnuts

Pan's bar area was bustling all evening

Feeling very decadent and bathed in the warm glow of an evening spent with good friends and fabulous food, we splurged on one of Pan's specialty coffees, a Monte Cristo, an intoxicating blend of Brandy, Grand Marnier and coffee topped with whipped cream. To our great surprise, our server Penelope arrived with four complimentary shots of Ouzo with cranberry juice. I asked her if she'd join us and with slight hesitation, she smiled and nodded. As we raised our glasses, Penelope shot her ouzo back in one gulp. Not to be outdone, we all did the same. As the evening lingered on, we had an opportunity to chat with most of the staff, as well as owner Soula Kyriakasis, who was very warm and friendly. The restaurant looks and feels like homeseamlessly blended with the delicious cuisine of Greece for an old world dining experience steeped with charm and sincere hospitality. It will take you back to the colours and essence of Greece, and I can't wait to plan my next odyssey to Pan. Opaahhh!

A Monte Cristo Coffee, an intoxicating blend of Brandy, Grand Marnier and coffee

Our server Penelope then brought over complimentary shots of Ouzo with Cranberry juice
...needles to say we took a cab home!

The bar at the end of the evening is full of glasses...

The candles are burning lower and lower...

...and we're the last to leave the restaurant - "Taxi!"

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tagliatelle with Wild Mushroom & Brandy Cream Sauce

Any recipe that features wild mushrooms gets my attention, and especially if they're combined with cream and a little brandy, cognac or Marsala, it becomes a rich and powerful flavour combination that can be the foundation for a host of fabulous dishes. Delicious served over any grilled meat or tossed with pasta, a fine Wild Mushroom & Brandy Cream Sauce is an indispensable part of many cooks culinary arsenal. An earthy combination of assorted wild mushrooms makes the sauce richer and more flavourful - varieties like shiitake, morelles, cremini, oyster, chanterelles, enoki or even shimeji - my new discovery.

Shimeji are attractive speckled brown capped mushrooms, 
that are similar to enokii mushrooms both in texture and flavour

Shimeji mushrooms are the third most popular mushroom in Japan, after shiitake and enoki. They're also called 'beech mushrooms' because they often grow on fallen beech trees, and with a white base and cracked, speckled brown caps, shimeji are attractive little mushrooms. Surprisingly they have no aroma, but once cooked, they have a smooth and crunchy texture like enoki, with a buttery and nutty flavour, and together with some shiitake and cremini mushrooms, became the foundation of my Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle.

A French shallot finely diced and sautéed in butter and olive oil,  
and because it's made with love, it's shaped like a heart!

The sauce starts with minced shallots sautéed in a live butter and olive oil until they become fragrant and translucent. Finely sliced shiitake and cremini mushrooms are then added and seasoned with salt and pepper. Once they've browned sufficiently, the shimeji are added along with some fresh thyme.

Sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms are added to the shallots

Then shimeji mushrooms and fresh thyme are added

A little heavy cream and glug or two of brandy are added to the mixture, and allowed to reduce somewhat to produce a luscious and creamy sauce. For an extra boost of flavour and velvety creaminess, I'm almost embarrassed to say, I added a few tablespoons of Boursin cheese, with its subtle blend of aromatic garlic, fragrant parsley and chives, it's the original flavour created by François Boursin fifty years ago, and remains Boursin's most popular flavour.

Rich, creamy and completely addictive, 
Boursin was the secret ingredient in my Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle

Add some cream and brandy for fat and flavour

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is another essential component to an exceptional Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce, and I used some that I had brought back recently from Emilia-Romagna, both in the sauce as well as in a bowl for garnishing the pasta once it was served.

Parmigiano-Reggiano from the Dumani familiy's 'caseificio' 
in Emilia-Romagna, which found it's way back from our recent trip to Italy!

I'm usually my harshest critic where cooking is concerned, but this Tagliatelle with Wild Mushroom & Brandy Boursin Cream Sauce was excellent — as good or better than any dish I've enjoyed eating out at restaurants. Although, going through pasta-withdrawl since coming back from Italy might have something to do with how thoroughly we savoured the Tagliatelle ai funghi e crema!

Tagliatelle with Wild Mushroom & Brandy Cream Sauce with Boursin
Serves 2

3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 french shallot, peeled and minced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 oz shiitake mushroom, thinly sliced
8 oz shimeji mushrooms, ends trimmed
1 cup 10% cream
1/4 cup Brandy, or to taste
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tbsp Boursin - Garlic & Fine Herbs
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt and black pepper
12 oz dried Tagliatelle pasta
Maldon salt for garnish

In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the shallot and sauté for about 8-10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and tender. Add the sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms and sauté 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms are lightly browned. Then add the shimeji mushrooms and sauté for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add a glug of brandy and cook for 3-4 minutes allowing the mixture to reduce. Then stir in the heavy cream, boursin and thyme. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mushroom sauce for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and once bubbling, add the noodles and cooked according to the instructions on the package. Once done, add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Add a handful of Parmigiano to the sauce and stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick, add some hot pasta water. Serve in warmed dinner bowls and garnish with some sprig of fresh thyme, a grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of Maldon salt.