Cheese Toasts

31 03 2010

The first edible item of spring: chives!

A couple of days ago, I was taking some recycling out to the bin beside my house and to my astonishment, peeking out from amongst some dead leaves and sticks in my herb pot was the first edible item of spring!  I’m talking about chives, an oniony herb that is a perennial, meaning it will grow year after year. Chives are very mild so they’re usually used as an accent.  They also add a bit of colour to the plate so they make a great garnish.

This appetizer was inspired by a starter I had at Freemans restaurant in New York City when visiting with a group of friends back in February.  Be sure to use a good quality aged cheddar.  I use Balderson’s 3-Year Old White Cheddar but any decent extra old cheddar will work.

Cheese Toasts

Makes about 10 toasts

  • 1 cup (3 oz.) lightly packed grated aged white cheddar cheese – use extra old cheddar, aged at least 2 to 3 years
  • 1/4 cup dijon-style mustard*
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives, plus extra for garnish if desired
  • 10 baguette slices, cut about 3/4″ thick

*Using a mustard with horseradish such as Grey Poupon Deli Mustard or Kozlik’s Horseradish Mustard makes these toasts even more delicious.

  1. In a small bowl, combine cheese, mustard and chopped chives.  Use a spoon to stir all ingredients together until the mixture is combined and relatively smooth.
  2. Spoon about 1-1/2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture onto each baguette round and spread in an even layer.  Place rounds on a baking sheet.
  3. Heat the broiler of your oven and move an oven rack into the top slot.  Toast the cheese topped rounds under the broiler until bubbling and brown, about 2 minutes.  Watch very carefully – they can burn in seconds.
  4. Remove from the oven, place on a serving plate and sprinkle with a garnish of chopped chives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Sharp cheddar, dijon and chives make a simple but delicious appetizer



Maple Syrup Season

24 03 2010


A sugar shack, where maple syrup is produced


Maple syrup is one of the great treats of spring.  The sap in maple trees begins to flow when the temperature climbs above freezing during the day but the nights remain cool.  By March, conditions are ideal and a trip to a sugar shack (known as a cabane à sucre in Quebec) is a great activity for the whole family.  

A stand selling maple products on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal


I remember visiting sugar shacks as a kid and loved the sweet, smoky smell of the boilers cooking down the maple sap, turning it into the golden elixir we pour on our pancakes.  There were always maple treats that went beyond bottle syrup such as maple taffy poured onto the snow, maple butter, maple candies and maple sugar. Many sugar shacks also offer hearty, rustic meals of pancakes, pork and baked beans to showcase their syrup.  Each spring, Martin Picard, chef and owner of the famed Montreal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, opens a version of a cabane à sucre featuring his unique take on the Quebec maple experience. Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon is located about 45 minutes from Montreal in St-Benoît de Mirabel. However, reservations can be hard to come by (this season is fully booked) so plan ahead if you want to go next year.  I haven’t been to the cabane à sucre yet (hopefully next year!) but if it’s anything like Au Pied de Cochon, you’re in for a treat, especially if you enjoy foie gras.  

Cans of Quebec maple syrup at Jean Talon Market, Montreal


If you can’t make it to a sugar shack and want to enjoy maple syrup at home, here are a few delicious ideas:

Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze – Brush on ham, bacon or a pork roast or use as a dip or spread for sandwiches.

Maple-Caramel Custards with Sea Salt – This rich and creamy custard is the perfect way to end a meal.

Pumpkin French Toast – A breakfast treat with the flavours of pumpkin pie.  Top it off with a healthy drizzle of real maple syrup.

Pancakes – Skip the accompanying blueberry sauce in favour of some maple syrup.

Pumpkin Pie with Maple-Walnut Praline – A classic pie with a delicious and decorative twist.

Baked French Toast – Breakfast is made easy with a dish that is prepped the night before and baked in the morning.  

Maple Nut Oatmeal – Warm up on cold mornings with a sweet and nutty treat.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Maple – Dress up dreaded brussels sprouts with a maple based glaze that brings out the best in this underrated vegetable.

A maple based glaze highlights the sweetness of brussels sprouts


Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Spring is in the Air!

23 03 2010


Fresh local asparagus should be available in about five or six weeks in Southern Ontario


It’s finally spring!  I’m a couple of days late acknowledging the change of season because I was getting some much needed sun in Florida last week.  Ironically, there were a couple of days when the weather was worse in South Florida than it was in Toronto, which is always surprising in March.

One of the highlights of my trip (aside from visiting some friends I miss very much) was enjoying fresh produce such as tomatoes, peppers and fruit that hadn’t been shipped hundreds of miles.  Their flavour was fresher and brighter and got me excited about the upcoming spring and summer markets.  Of course, we’re still weeks away from anything local in most parts of Canada but the wait will be well worth it when we finally enjoy those first green spears of asparagus and fiddleheads. They usually show up at the market in late April / early May and I can’t wait!

I saw a small flower poking up through the dirt this morning so with some patience, the landscape will soon be green and lush and we’ll be enjoying the first vegetables of spring.

Bon Appétit and Happy Spring!