Aloha from Maui!

31 07 2009


Near Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Near Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Greetings from the island of Maui, Hawaii!  I’m currently sitting in the lobby of the gorgeous Fairmont Kea Lani hotel in Wailea, Maui, taking a short break from swimming, sight seeing and of course, eating.  The scenery and food are fantastic here and the people are the friendliest I’ve ever encountered in my travels.  We’ve been enjoying the local cuisine, which is very different from what’s local where I live. Coconut, pineapple, macadamia nuts, coffee and fish are all an important part of the Hawaiian diet and luckily, favourites of mine as well.  The cuisine draws from a variety of influences from Portuguese to Japanese and fish features prominently.  We’ve enjoyed ahi tuna, monchong (a whitefish with a meaty texture and mild flavour), shrimp, hamachi, salmon and oysters as well as excellent beef from the Maui Cattle Company.  Fresh fruit is abundant and a wedge of sweet, juicy pineapple is served with almost everything.  It’s been a wonderful week relaxing and getting inspired with new ideas for delicious recipes. In the meantime, here is a simple summery cocktail that was inspired by a poolside drink I enjoyed a couple of days ago (while unknowingly getting a terrible sunburn – the sun here really packs a punch!).  I’ll have more to report later so until then…

Mango Bellini

Makes 1 drink – can easily be doubled

If you can’t find mango schnapps, substitute the more readily available peach schnapps.

In a champagne flute or small wine glass, add:

  • 1 oz. mango OR peach schnapps
  • 2 oz. mango juice
  • Top with an inexpensive dry sparkling wine such as cava or prosseco
  • Optional: Garnish with fruit or an orchid, if desired.

Aloha and Enjoy!


Mango Bellini with orchid garnish

Mango Bellini with orchid garnish


Farmer’s Market Report – July 21st, 2009

21 07 2009


Fresh arugula (aka rocket or rucola) is great in a salad or on sandwiches

Fresh arugula (aka rocket/rucola/roquette) is great in a salad or on sandwiches

It’s mid-summer here in Southern Ontario, although you’d be hard pressed to tell. The weather has been unstable at best and downright cold at its worst.  We’ve hardly had any days over 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) and the temperature has generally topped out between 20 and 23 degrees Celsius. It’s usually pretty hot and humid in July so this is very unusual but hopefully the weather will improve as we move into August – summer’s days are numbered!  

Unfortunately, a cool and damp summer takes its toll on the produce.  Tomatoes, corn, grapes and peaches are at their best when the weather is hot and dry and other fruits and vegetables are also behind schedule.  The strawberries I’ve had this year have been very hit and miss – I’ll get a sweet batch in one box only to find the next one sour and tasteless.  The best advice I can offer is to ask vendors at the market if you can taste the produce before buying so you can avoid disappointment (unfortunately, this often isn’t possible at the supermarket).

Here are some highlights of this week’s market visit:


The very last asparagus of the season was still available.  We won’t have local asparagus again until next May so enjoy it while you can!  I think my husband will be kind of relieved that we won’t be eating it for a while – we definitely get our fill during the brief season.  Visit the Asparagus archives for lots of ideas on how to use this delicious vegetable.

Strawberries and Rhubarb

There are still local strawberries at the markets but their quality can vary.  The ones I got this week were actually better than last week’s tasteless berries.  A handful of rhubarb was still available but it was probably the last week for it.  It’s your last chance this season to enjoy a sweet-and-tart strawberry-rhubarb cocktail.


Enjoy the last rhubarb of the season in these delicious cocktails

Enjoy the last rhubarb of the season in these delicious cocktails


Local green and yellow zucchini were in abundance but some of them were almost past their peak as far as size is concerned.  Smaller zucchini tend to be sweeter and less watery – they can get seedy and wet once they get too big. Miniature summer squash were also available.  For a great recipe using zucchini, check out Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting.


The first apricots are showing up at the markets although the ones I picked up this week were quite sour.  I find apricots are usually at their best when cooked or dried, as opposed to eating them raw out of hand.  Check out a quick and delicious recipe for Apricot Jam that makes a great addition to the breakfast table.


Ontario cherries are at their peak right now but the quality has been mixed this season.  Both sweet and sour cherries are at the markets.  For a delicious way to use them, see my recipe for Cherry Almond Bread.


A few vendors were advertising ‘Ontario Field Tomatoes’ but they aren’t in their peak season quite yet.  Within a couple of weeks we should be seeing more local tomatoes.  However, I did buy some locally grown grape tomatoes that didn’t look so great but were sweet and delicious.  You can’t always judge a tomato by its skin! Why not make a Caprese Salad with some sweet, local grape or cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil?

'Chopped' Caprese Salad

A chopped caprese salad made with cherry or grape tomatoes is a summer classic



The very first (very early) Ontario corn was on sale this week but it was a little disappointing.  I should have known better – corn doesn’t typically reach its peak here until August but I love it so much, I couldn’t resist!  I will wait a couple of weeks or so to try it again.  Soon it will be cheap and plentiful.


I have a minor addiction to arugula (also known as rocket, roquette or rucola) and usually buy the greenhouse grown stuff through the year.  However, Ontario grown arugula was at the market the other day and it was much more flavourful than the packaged kind.  It was peppery and pungent and really made my salad sing.  For simple vinaigrette ideas to dress an arugula salad, see my primer on Vinaigrettes. Arugula is also great on sandwiches or on top of a pizza – it adds a nice peppery bite.


I was very pleased to finally find locally grown garlic at the market.  Most of what’s in the grocery stores through the year is grown in China and tends to dry out and loses its flavour quickly.  The Ontario garlic I bought was very fresh and sweet.  To learn more about garlic, see my primer ‘Garlic 101’.

Cucumbers and Dill

Smart farmers are selling miniature cukes next to big batches of dill so it’s one-stop-shopping for pickle makers.  However, cucumber and dill are also great in other dishes, such as Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad and Smoked Salmon Spread (use the cucumber slices to scoop the dip for a lower carb treat).

Happy Marketing!

Until next week…


Kitchen Tip of the Week: Chopping Onions Without Tears

20 07 2009


Onions are notorious for causing eye irritation when we peel and cut them.  Some people are quite sensitive to this and some onion varieties are more pungent than others.  To avoid tears when chopping onions, try some of the following tricks:

  • Light a candle close to your cutting board just before you begin to peel and chop your onions.  The flame will burn off irritating fumes before they get to your eyes.
  • If you’re very sensitive to onions, try wearing goggles when you chop.  Yes, it looks a bit silly but it will keep your eyes from getting red and watery.
  • Peel onions under cold water.
  • Cut onions under a strong stove vent.  Just move your cutting board to the stovetop and turn the fan on full power et voila!  The onion fumes will be whisked away.
  • Use a small fan to blow fumes away.  Place a small portable fan near your cutting board and it will keep the onion’s compounds from reaching your eyes. 

Source: How to Break and Egg: 1,453 Kitchen Tips, Food Fixes, Emergency Substitutions, and Handy Techniques, by the Editors, Contributors, and Readers of Fine Cooking Magazine.

There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more helpful tips and tricks.

Italian Summer Menu

18 07 2009
Italy 2007 006

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

Summer entertaining is meant to be casual and relaxed.  People sometimes get stuck in a rut when it comes to summer cooking, opting to do the same burgers, hot dogs and potato salad because they’re easy and familiar.  I absolutely love burgers and salad but sometimes it’s fun to try something new and different.  This Italian menu is perfect for entertaining because you can do a lot of the work in advance and I guarantee it will be a crowd pleaser.  Serve the main courses ‘family style’ on a buffet table to make things easy.

Italian Summer Menu

To Start…

Tuscan Lemonade

Mixed olives

Salted Almonds

Small squares of Tomato Tart with Herbed Ricotta


Zucchini Blossoms

Main Dishes…

Bucatini Amatriciana

Gnocchi with Pesto

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Grilled Italian Sausages

Italian Wines

To Finish…

Peach Tiramisu


Vin Santo


For more great Italian ideas for the grill, see my write-up on Suite about chef Mario Batali’s cookbook Italian Grill.

Buon Appetito and Enjoy!

Sustainable Seafood

8 07 2009

iStock_000000771938XSmallNow that summer is here, many of us are choosing to eat lighter meals.  This often includes fish, either purchased from the market or (if you’re really lucky), freshly caught from a lake or river.  However, there are currently concerns about the over-fishing of some species, resulting in a depletion of their numbers.  Luckily there are some great resources available to help us make smarter choices to protect the fish population.

In the United States, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has detailed information about ocean and seafood issues and is used as a reference by restaurants, chefs and home cooks across North America. Their Seafood Recommendations are divided into categories based on sustainability. The fish under ‘Best Choice’ represent species that have been well managed (including farmed fish) and have not been over-fished.  The ‘Avoid’ category lists the fish that we should not be choosing due to the fragile state of their populations.  In some cases, reputable fish mongers have stopped selling some of these fish as well. To visit The Monterey Bay Aquarium website to learn more about smart fish choices, click here: The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Vancouver-based Sea Choice works in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to provide information for Canadian consumers.  With the support of conservation organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation and Sierra Club British Columbia, Sea Choice can help us make smart decisions when shopping for and ordering fish when dining out.  Visit for more information.

Both the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Sea Choice have free Apps for smart phones. It’s a convenient way to have the information about sustainable choices at your finger tips when shopping for seafood.



Farmer’s Market Report – July 6th, 2009

6 07 2009


Sweet local peas are at their peak in July

Sweet local peas are at their peak in July

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve been to the farmer’s market due to a very inconvenient city worker’s strike here in Toronto that temporarily shut down some of the markets.  However, it appears that the affected markets are going to re-open this week and luckily there are others that weren’t shuttered at all.  Good thing, because our summers are extremely short and there is a limited amount of time to get the great fresh produce that our local farmers have to offer.

Despite the unseasonably cool and damp weather this spring/summer in Southern Ontario, I was excited to see that the summer harvest has begun.  Strawberries were the main attraction and there is still a lot of asparagus available.  The very first cherries and zucchini are showing up and peas are in full swing.  Green beans and tiny baby potatoes were also abundant.  Fresh lettuces, beets, green onions, various peppers and a variety of carrots were available as well.  There is easily enough available now that you could design a menu around strictly local produce that would offer great variety and abundance.  Such a nice change from a few months ago!

Here are some simple suggestions for using what’s in season now:


Undoubtedly the star of the markets right now, strawberries are at their peak and don’t require too much dressing up to taste good.  Slice a few, sprinkle with a small amount of sugar and enjoy with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream. You can also mix them into some vanilla yogurt.  I enjoy a few strawberries sliced on top of my cereal in the mornings and it only takes a short time to whip up some biscuits and jam for a weekend breakfast.  Stay tuned in the days to come for some new strawberry recipes I’ve been working on. 


Asparagus will be nearing the end of it’s season soon so it’s time to take advantage of this seasonal delight before they’re gone. I’ve posted quite a few recipes this year including a crustless quiche that’s perfect for breakfast or lunch, asparagus orzo, grilled asparagus spears with goat cheese and prosciutto and a divine roasted asparagus lasagna that is fantastic (if a bit rich!).  Check out the archives at for many more great asparagus ideas.

New Potatoes

Although stored potatoes are a winter staple, the first new ones of the summer have a flavour and texture that is more sweet and delicate than older potatoes.  They require little embellishment: just boil or steam and serve with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. Or make a classic vinaigrette and toss with small boiled potatoes and fresh green beans for a refreshing and simple side dish. Keep it simple and save elaborate potato recipes for fall and winter!


Fresh new peas are so sweet that they bear no resemblance to the the canned kind (or even the frozen ones that I use through the winter).  Simply boil until just cooked through (NOT to mush!) and finish with a bit of butter, salt and pepper – yum!  If you are able to find ones that are very small, they don’t even need to be cooked before adding to dishes such as pasta.  A couple of months ago, Food and Wine magazine featured a pasta with asparagus, sage and peas that was delicious.  I added a bit of chopped ham to add some protein.  It also takes advantage of the fresh asparagus and herbs that are available now. Click here for the recipe: Penne with Asparagus, Sage and Peas.

Asparagus and strawberries at the farmer's market

Asparagus and strawberries at the farmer's market



To My American Friends…

4 07 2009

Happy 4th of July!  I hope everyone enjoys the holiday by celebrating with some good old fashioned American food like burgers, hot dogs and apple pie.  And if you’re feeling really inspired, why not make a patriotic flag cake? Either purchase or bake a rectangular cake (any flavour you like) topped with white icing.  Use strawberries or raspberries and blueberries to decorate the top.  You can fill in the ‘stars and stripes’ with a pastry bag of whipped cream or frosting.

American Flag Cake

Cheers and Enjoy!


Kitchen Tip of the Week: Household Uses for Wine Corks

2 07 2009


If you drink wine, you’re likely to have some corks lying around. Although many wine makers are switching to synthetic corks or even screw-top enclosures, a lot of bottles still have real corks.  Cork is produced from the cork oak  and is considered an environmentally friendly product.  It is also a useful material around the house.  

Here are a few ideas for using wine corks:

Cut a Slice of Cork to Steady a Wobbly Table

If you have a table that wobbles slightly, you can use a sharp knife to cut a slice of cork to place under the leg to steady the table. Cut to the desired thickness.  In addition, if you have a small item that is missing a leg, a cork can be used to replace it.  For example, my old microwave lost one of it’s legs and I cut a cork to size and used it in place of the missing leg.  


Use a sharp knife to slice cork for your various household needs

Use a sharp knife to slice cork for your various household needs



Put Pieces of Cork on the Back of Hanging Frames so they Don’t Mark the Wall

Sometimes a hanging picture will mark the wall if someone bumps against it, particularly in high traffic areas.  A  few small rounds of cork glued to the back of the frame will prevent this.


A few small pieces of cork will keep picture frames from marking your walls

A few small pieces of cork will keep picture frames from marking your walls


Protect Knife Tips

A knife block is the best way to store knives but if necessary, you can protect the tips of your sharp knives by sticking them in a cork.


A knife block is best but a cork will protect tips in a pinch

A knife block is best but a cork will protect tips in a pinch



Store Small Sharp Objects

Corks are a great way to organize small sharp objects such as corn cob holders, tacks or push pins.  Just stick them into a cork and you’ll be able to find them in your drawer easily, without poking yourself with the sharp ends in the process.


Organize sharp objects like corn cob holders and push pins with a cork

Organize sharp objects like corn cob holders and push pins with a cork



Protect Your Furniture

Slicing a few pieces of cork and gluing them to the bottom of items that could mark furniture is a free alternative to buying felt protectors.  Old trivets and coasters can also be saved with a few pieces of sliced cork.

One final use for a used cork: to re-cork a part bottle of wine.  However, the portion of the cork that was in the wine will swell up, making it hard to get back into the bottle.  Turn it around so the narrower (dry) end goes into the bottle and you should have no trouble.


There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more helpful tips and tricks.

Happy Canada Day!

1 07 2009


To all my Canadian friends and family – Happy Canada Day!  Today is a great day to kick back with a uniquely Canadian drink such as a Caesar Cocktail or some local wine or beer and enjoy the holiday.  A lot of great fruit and vegetables are in season right now so celebrate with a ‘Canadian inspired’ barbeque with your friends and family!

Cheers and Enjoy!