With the long weekend coming up, many of us are planning big festivities with friends and family to celebrate. My favourite way to spend time with the people that I love is to bring them together around a big dinner table and catch up over lots of delicious food and wine. Recently I attended a private class hosted by Chef Toben and catering director Elana Kochman of Toben Food by Design to pick up some new recipes and tips for hosting large groups of people.

One of my favourite tips they offered was to serve hearty salads with slices of meat or seafood, instead of a whole slab of it for each person. It seems so obvious and simple, but it’s something I hadn’t really considered before as an option for mains. I guess you often feel obliged to serve full pieces to guests, but that can often get quite expensive, especially if you care about the quality of meat or fish you are serving. Chef Toben and Elana pointed out that by doing this you can buy less of a higher quality meat and everyone will still feel satisfied that they ate more than “just a salad” at your dinner party.

Here Chef Toben has shared his recipes for three different salads that each star either steak, tuna or lobster in small amounts. For those with a sweet tooth, we also have two dessert recipes!

Chef Toben is one of my favourite chefs in the city, especially because he is responsible for the incredible food at Memory Ball, and I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.

Summer Nova Scotia Lobster Salad

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes/Charred Corn/Grilled Fennel/Crispy Chorizo/Grilled Asparagus/Roasted Pepper-Romesco Sauce/Aged Sherry-Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

Makes 12-14 individual servings


2 x 2lb Nova Scotia Lobsters – steamed until cooked through approx 10 mins – all meat removed from the shell and chopped into a 3/4inch cubes – coated with 2 tablespoons of Sherry Vinaigrette and 1 tablespoon salt (this must be done just before serving or your lobster will become tough and overcooked from the acid in the vinaigrette)

Note:  Ask your fishmonger to cook your lobster for you and remove the meat from the shells – they will be more than happy to do so for a few extra dollars and a lot of the work will be done for you by the experts!

For Potato salad:

3 lbs. Fingerling potatoes – halved and tossed lightly in salt and pepper and then roasted in a 375F oven until golden and tender.

*Make sure to toss the potatoes with some Sherry Vinaigrette (recipe below) as soon as they come out of the oven so that they best absorb the flavours

Tip:  When making potato salad it is always good to roast instead of boiling your potatoes.  They will hold their shape and texture much better.

2 ears corn – husks removed, grilled and kernels then cut from cob

1 bulb Fennel – grilled and roughly chopped

2 links chorizo sausage – sliced into 2” slices and seared in a heavy bottomed pan until crispy – approx 2 mins.

1 bunch asparagus– woody stems removed, tossed lightly in olive oil, salt, and pepper and grilled for approx 3 mins until lightly charred and just tender

2 tablespoons Parsley – finely minced

Method:  Toss all ingredients in a bowl and add more Sherry Vinaigrette (approx ½ cup) and salt, pepper to taste.  Serve in small bowls or family style and top with a generous serving of your beautiful lobster meat.

Optional:  garnish each salad with beautiful microgreens such as pea tendrils or celery cress- these will add that ‘wow’ factor for your guests when they look down at your beautiful creation.

For Sherry Vinaigrette (Makes 1L of dressing):

1 cup Sherry Vinegar

½ cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed – none of that bottled concentrated stuff!)

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl together except the olive oil.  Slowly drizzle in the oil, continuing to whisk constantly until the vinaigrette has fully emulsified (become homogenous).

NOTE:  This dressing can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time and will stay fresh (refrigerated) for up to 6 weeks.

Jerk Seared Tuna and Island Chopped Salad
Black Beans/Jicama/Watermelon/Mango/Avocado/Cucumber /Snap Peas

Makes 10-12 individual servings


For the Tuna:

2 lbs fresh Ahi Tuna – blood line removed, cut into 2” x 2”x 6” rectangular steaks – your fish monger can help you with this step and cut the tuna for you!

2 cups Jerk Marinade – either store bought or see recipe below to make from scratch.

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

Method:  Marinate the tuna steaks in jerk marinade for 1 hour.  Let tuna rest to room temperature before cooking. Season each with salt on all sides and sear in a very hot cast iron skillet for approx 15-20 seconds per side.  This step can be done up to 5 hours before serving and left in the fridge to cool.  Slice the tuna cross-wise, against the grain in thin ¼ cm slices and serve on top of your beautiful chopped salad.

For the Chopped Salad:  

1 cup dry black beans- soaked overnight in cold water and boiled in water until just tender – you can also buy canned black beans (this is a big time and energy saver).

1 cup jicama – peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes

2 cups watermelon – peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes

1 cup mango – peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes

1 cup avocado – peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes

¼ cup red onion – finely minced

1 cup cucumber – seeded and diced into 1 cm cubes

1 cup sugar snap peas – steamed for 45 seconds, shocked in cold water, dried, and cut into 1 cm chunks

½  cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh lime zest

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon all spice

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ cup grapeseed oil

½ bunch Thai basil – roughly chopped

½ bunch mint – roughly chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:  Toss all chopped vegetables, fruits, Thai basil, mint and black beans into a large bowl.  Dress with lime juice, grapeseed oil, salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin and all spice.  Set aside and serve when ready.   Serve the jerk seared tuna slices on top of the chopped salad and serve either family style on a large platter or on individual small plates/bowls.

Note:  This salad can be mixed together and dressed up to 2 hours before serving and left in the fridge until you are ready to plate.

Jerk Marinade:

5 scallions (green onions)
5 sprigs of fresh thyme (about 1 tablespoon chopped)
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 scotch bonnet peppers
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 onion
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Notes: If you’re using dried thyme, use about 1/2 tablespoon. This makes about 3 cups of marinade and it can be stored in the fridge for about 1 month.

Basically, all you’ll be doing is making a puree with all the ingredients I mentioned above. So you’ll need a blender or food processor.


Rough chop the scallions, peppers, garlic, onion and thyme and place in the food processor to make it easier to puree. Remember when working with these hot peppers to wear gloves (the natural oil is deadly). Also note that most of the heat is within the seeds and the membrane that surround the seeds. So to control the heat, discard those. However, for that true authentic Jamaican feel, keep the entire pepper.

Now add all the other ingredients and pulse to start. Then run the puree speed for about 2-3 minutes until everything breaks down to a smooth consistency.

This marinade will last up to 2 weeks in a sealed container in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Seared “AAA” Angus Beef Ribeye Steak and Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad

Kale/Rustic Garlicky Bread Croutons/Grilled Red Onion/Roasted Oyster Mushrooms/Fresh Parsley/Basil-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Makes 10-12 servings


For the Steak:

2 lbs “AAA” Angus Beef Ribeye – cut into 1” steaks – try to buy the best quality of meat that you can with lots of marbling – ask your butcher for ‘dry aged’ meat and tell him you want the best quality meat!

1 ½ tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

Bring out the meat to room temperature 30 minutes before you are going to cook it.  Season each steak very liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.  Heat up a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet until smoking on high heat.  Sear each piece of meat for 3-4 minutes a side for medium rare.  Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, covered with a piece of aluminum foil on a clean baking sheet.  Slice the steaks very thinly, slicing against the grains of the meat and serve.  The steaks can be cooked and sliced up to 1 hour before serving – do not refrigerate the cooked steaks.  Leave out at room temperature to avoid drying out the meat.

For the Salad:

1  1lb. loaf Focaccia bread – day old loaves are better – roughly torn into 1 1/2” cubes – toast the Focaccia in a 325F oven for 15-20 minutes until golden on the outside and completely crunchy and dry through the center.  Oven times may vary depending on the size of your bread and the moisture content of each type of bread.  Also, feel free to substitute with baguette or sourdough bread if you cannot find focaccia!

1 pint fresh heirloom tomatoes – sliced lengthwise

1 red onion – sliced and grilled on a hot grill until lightly charred – cut into 1” dice

2 cups oyster mushrooms – roasted with olive oil in a 400F oven for 10 minutes

1 tablespoon fresh thyme – roughly chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary – finely chopped

½ cup fresh parsley leaves – washed and roughly chopped

3 cups green kale – wash, stems removed and roughly chopped

¾ cup basil-balsamic Vinaigrette – see recipe below

Salt and pepper to taste

Set the focaccia croutons aside – these must be incorporated into the salad at the last possible moment before serving.  Place all other ingredients in a bowl and dress with basil-balsamic vinaigrette.  This can be done up to 90 minutes ahead of the time of serving.  At the last minute, toss in the focaccia croutons and a little more vinaigrette to coat the bread.  Serve on a large family style platter or individual bowls and garnish with slices of your gorgeous pan roasted ribeye steak slices.  Garnish with more chopped parsley if desired!

Basil-Balsamic Vinaigrette:

Makes 1L of dressing

1 cup aged Modena Balsamic Vinegar

¼ cup basil leaves – washed and picked from the stem

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth!  This dressing will last up to 3 weeks in a sealed container in the fridge.

Ontario Strawberry-Lemon Shortcakes

Vanilla Chantilly Cream, Mint Cress

Makes 12 Individual Servings


For the Lemon Shortcakes:

1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 cup heavy cream (35%) – whipped to stiff peaks

½ cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons butter – melted

NOTE:  if you want to save the step of making shortcakes from scratch, buy a good quality pound cake or scone and make a time-saving substitution – your guests will never know!

Pre-heat the oven to 375F.  In an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and lemon zest.  Mix in the whipped cream until the mixture is moistened and just formed a ball.  Turn out onto a lightly flour work surface and knead briefly just to bring the dough together.

Form the dough into a ball and roll out to 1 inch thick.  Cut out 2” size rounds and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush the top of the shortcakes with melted butter and sprinkle generously with brown sugar.

Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until the tops and bottom are golden brown.  Remove immediately and place on a wire rack to fully cool.

For the Strawberries:

1 quart fresh Ontario Strawberries – green top removed and sliced thinly

1 tablespoon Jack Daniels Whiskey (optional)

Mint Cress or fresh Mint finely chopped

Combine the strawberries with the Jack Daniels and set aside in the fridge.  If the strawberries are not sweet enough, add a little sprinkle of sugar!

For the Vanilla whipped cream topping:

1 ½ cups heavy cream – whipped to stiff peaks with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of natural vanilla extract

To assemble: 

Pipe or spoon the whipped cream on top of the cooled shortcakes.  Top with the marinated sliced strawberries and garnish with mint cress or chopped mint.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 hours, assembled until ready to serve.


For more information please visit TobenFoodByDesign.com