Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thai Tom Kha Gai Soup

Fragrant, spicy, and absolutely delicious, Tom Kha Gai Soup is the Thai and Lao equivalent of Coconut Chicken Soup. The main ingredients are galangal, or Tom Kha in Thai, and Gai which means Chicken. Delicately seasoned with coconut milk, chicken broth, strips of white chicken, fish sauce, galangal or ginger root, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and a few fresh red chiles, the fragrant ingredients create a spicy milky broth that is wonderfully aromatic, slightly sour and just a wee bit salty from the fish sauce. Thai-style Tom Kha Gai doesn't use dill, whereas Lao-style Tom Kha Gai usually does. The Thais' answer to dill weed is cilantro. Lovely, light and refreshing, Tom Kha Gai is one of my favourite soups and is delicious anytime of the year, but especially so when combined with a Thai-inspired meal of spicy chicken satays, fresh spring rolls, an aromatic curry, steamed rice and cold Singha lager.

Tom Kha Gai Soup
Serves 4-6

2 cups chicken broth
5 kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly
1-inch piece of galangal or ginger root, sliced thinly
2-inch length of lemongrass, bruised
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
4 oz chicken breast, sliced thinly
5 oz coconut milk
4-6 small red chiles, slightly crushed, to taste
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat the broth, then add the lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce and lime juice. Stirring thoroughly, bring to a boil. Then add the chicken and coconut milk. Bring back to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until heated through. Serve in small bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Joey Grill & Lounge: Toronto Eaton Centre

Joey Grill & Lounge, the popular west coast chain of hip upscale casual restaurants that landed in Toronto a couple of years ago, launched their newest Toronto Eaton Centre location on July 8 2011. The menu and interior are true to the Joey brand, with a central big bar accessorized with a flotilla of flat-screen TVs, high wooden coaster tables, funky designer light fixtures, a huge 10-square foot TV Screen with a film loop playing soundlessly in the background, and perhaps most predictable of all, Joey's well-endowed female servers in LBDs and black heels. 

Funky designer lighting fixtures set the mood as guests arrive via the Dundas Street entrance

The garage-style windows open up during the summer months

The space is massive in scale with a bank of garage door-style windows along Dundas that will roll up once the warm weather returns. In the two-storey dining room with upstairs wine mezzanine, where the look is like the bar's minus the TVs, Joey offers a very clever corporate menu, which is the same across the chain. It's a clever formula, with something for everyone, from Asian, Indian to North American and fusion favourites, including Killer Ahi Tuna Tacos, Earth & Surf Calamari and Cheeseburger Sliders to Pan Fried Gyoza as appetizers; a selection of seven enormous steak entrées for meat-lovers to raw tuna on designer greens, for those watching their calories.

Joey Eaton Centre Menu which even accommodates gluten-free diets

The Joey franchise already has plans to expand further by opening a pub called The Local on the lower level of the Eaton Centre in the next year. It'll be connected to Joey through a staircase that will also offer direct access from the Eaton Centre, an important feature it's currently lacking, especially with winter around the corner. However, the Joey brand seems to have a devoted following that will surely not be thwarted by a snow flake or two, to get to their Miso Ramen Soup and decadent Lobster Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.

Miso Ramen Soup with wok seared Asian vegetables in rich miso broth

Lobster Grilled Cheese with melted Brie, cheddar and nuggets of lobster

With the Eaton Centre having undergone a major $120-million facelift in the past year, Cadillac Fairview's desire to redefine and reinvigorate the downtown shopping experience has resulted in their success in attracting a handful of high-profile players, from Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman, Victoria's Secret, Trattoria Mercatto and now Joey. Although the Eaton Centre has never been a satisfying culinary destination, the horizon is looking a little brighter than it has before, but it still has a long way to go to compete with the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan — the complex upon which Eberhard Zeidler and Bregman + Hamann Architects originally based the original design of the Eaton Centre. It was envisioned at the time to become one of North America's top shopping and dining destinations. Reminds me of the song by Jiminy Cricket — High Hopes...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Poulet Roti Grand-Mère

Poulet Roti Grand-Mère, or grandmother-style roast chicken, is a classic French fricassée. Any dish termed “Grand-mere” has the same 4 ingredients: glazed pearl or cipollini onions, bacon lardons, sauteed mushrooms and small potatoes. 
This delicious savoury chicken dish was inspired by a fabulous recipe that I came across by Daniel Boulud, chef-owner of Daniel and Cafe Boulud in New York and author of The Café Boulud Cookbook. Poulet Roti Grand-Mère was a specialty of his Grandmother Francine.

Chef Daniel Boulud

Daniel Boulud grew up on his family's farm in Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu, a village just outside Lyons, where his father sold produce at Les Halles. He was expected to help outdoors on the farm, but the only problem was, he was allergic to hay. So he turned to what he loved best — helping his grandmother in the kitchen. Grand-Mère Francine was in charge of feeding the entire Boulud family which added up to about 12 people around the table each mealtime. An accomplished cook, she also cooked at the original Café Boulud, a simple roadside restaurant on their land, where locals would drop in for an omelette or some home-made saucisson. It was in her kitchen that Daniel Boulud leaned how to cook.

Daniel on the family farm

The best thing Daniel's grandmother made, appropriately enough, was the French classic Poulet Grand-Mère. Although it can be made with a whole chicken, she did it as a fricassée, with the chicken cut up into portions. She browned the meat in a sauté pan then added shallots, garlic, potatoes, mushrooms and chicken stock and then baked it in the oven. She would prepare the dish with handpicked field mushrooms, freshly dug potatoes and new garlic. The Boulud family even raised their own chickens, so all of the elements for her Poulet Grand-Mère came together perfectly.

The Café Boulud Cookbook

My recipe for Chicken Grand-Mere is prepared much the same way as Francine's however I generally use chicken breasts rather than the whole chicken, and roast them in the oven until they're crispy and golden brown rather than searing them in hot oil. The outcome is the same though — a classic comfort food on a cold autumn or winter day.

Roast Chicken Grand-Mère
Serves 4
Modified from a recipe by Daniel Boulud

4 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
12 cipollini onions, skin on
4 shallots, peeled and sliced finely
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
6 sprigs thyme
16 small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 oz bacon, cut into short thin strips
12 small cremini mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and halved
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 crusty Baguette, to serve with chicken

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Blanch the cipollini onions in a small pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes, and when they're cool enough to handle, peel off the outer skin, trim off the root end, then set aside.

In a large bowl, coat the chicken breasts and small potatoes all over with canola oil, then place the chicken in a large oven-proof casserole or skillet, and the potatoes in a small baking pan. Season them both generously with salt and pepper and roast at the same time in the oven until the chicken breasts are well browned on top, about 25-35 minutes. Meanwhile, remember to stir the potatoes every 10-15 minutes to ensure they become golden all over. When the chicken and potatoes are deeply golden, remove them from the oven and transfer to a platter and keep warm while you work on the vegetables.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking fat from the casserole, and place on the stove top over medium heat. Add the butter and sliced shallots and cook, stirring frequently, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the cipollini onions, garlic and thyme and cook just until the vegetables start to take on a little color, about 3 minutes. Add the celery root and bacon and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the bacon starts rendering its fat. Then cover the pan and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and return the chicken to the pan. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and slide the pan into the oven. Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Spoon everything onto a warm serving platter or serve from the casserole, and garnish with extra sprigs of thyme.

To serve, bring the chicken to the table with plenty of crusty baguette to sop up the sauce and spread with the soft, sweet, caramel-like garlic that is easily squeezed out of its skin.