Coming Soon…

9 01 2010

Happy New Year to everyone!  We’re only nine days into the year and I’ve already been sick, gotten stranded on vacation due to bad weather and had my basement floor ripped up to replace a drain pipe.  However, despite these minor set backs, I’m excited about 2010 and all of the great ideas I hope to bring you this year.  Some of the things I’m working on for January and February include:

  • Great recipe ideas using winter produce
  • More discussions of restaurants featuring local, seasonal menus
  • An update to ‘My Reading List‘, featuring my favourite cookbooks and websites from the past year
  • Menu suggestions for cold weather feasts
  • Trip reports from my various travels

So stay tuned and check back often for new material (once I’m back on my feet, with both my health and the plumbing situation in my basement!).



Happy New Year!

30 12 2009

It’s been a busy holiday season this year, with family visits, shopping, traveling, a minor plumbing disaster and of course, eating well.  As the year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 365 days and look forward to the year ahead.  I can hardly believe it’s going to be 2010 – it sounds very futuristic!  I wish everyone all the best for 2010 and once the holiday chaos dies down, I will be bringing you many more original recipes, fresh ideas for using seasonal ingredients and reports of great places to eat and drink.

All the Best,


Potato Latkes

15 12 2009

Tonight is the 5th night of Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration of lights. Potato latkes are traditionally eaten during the eight days of festivities but you certainly don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy them.  You can sometimes find them on menus at delis but they’re very easy to make at home. The potatoes and onions can be grated by hand or with a food processor. Latkes are best eaten fresh out of the pan – they don’t really re-heat very well.  Serve with sour cream or applesauce.

Potato Latkes


Makes about 8 large latkes

  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • Neutral oil such as safflower, for pan frying latkes
  • Sour cream or apple sauce, to garnish (optional)
  1. Grate potatoes and onion and place in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and let sit for five minutes.  
  2. After five minutes, use your hands to wring any liquid from the shredded potatoes and discard the liquid (you can also do this by pressing the potato mixture in a colander).
  3. Add egg and flour to the potato mixture and use your hands to thoroughly combine the ingredients.
  4. In a large, deep skillet, add oil so that is about 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep in the pan. Heat on high until ready to fry (to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until a small piece of potato dropped in sizzles and turns golden).  Be sure to watch the oil carefully!
  5. Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to scoop out some potato mixture.  Carefully place in the oil and flatten slightly with a spatula. Repeat scooping the mixture but make sure the latkes are not crowded in the pan (you will likely have to do two batches).
  6. Let the latkes cook until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes.  Carefully turn over with a spatula and cook the other side.  When the pancakes are dark golden and cooked through, remove from the pan and place on a paper-towel lined plate. 
  7. Season with additional salt to taste and serve with sour cream or applesauce, as desired.

Happy Hanukkah and Enjoy!

A Potato Latke topped with sour cream.

Hot Chocolate

11 12 2009


Homemade hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream and grated chocolate


Even though it’s still officially fall for another ten days, winter has arrived in most parts of Canada.  We finally got our first snowfall and the temperature has plunged. As soon as the weather turns cold, I start to crave hot chocolate.  I’ve tried all of the big coffee chains and a few independent places but nothing quite suits my tastes. I prefer a cocoa that is dark and chocolaty but not too thick. I find most coffee shop hot chocolates tend to be too sweet, too milky or too artificial tasting.  The logical solution to this quandry?  Make my own!

It’s very easy to whip up some homemade hot chocolate and you can adjust it to suit your taste.  If you prefer it thicker, use some cream or evaporated milk.  Prefer it sweet?  Add more sugar.  You can also add flavourings or liqueur to your cocoa to dress it up (see below).

The key to good hot chocolate is to use a good quality cocoa powder.  I use a mix of Valrhona 100% Cacao Gastronomie and plain old Fry’s Premium Cocoa which can be purchased at any grocery store (the Valrhona is a little intense by itself).   Scharffen Bergen, Green & Black’s, Droste and Callebaut are other popular brands.  Top your cocoa off with a marshmallow or dollop or whipped cream or try one of the variations below.  If you’re interested in a bit of history, you can read about France’s King Louis XV’s love of hot chocolate, which he would sometimes prepare for himself: Chocolate at Versailles – Louis XV’s Favourite Drink.

Homemade Hot Chocolate

Makes 2 large mugs of cocoa

  • 5 Tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cups milk – low fat or whole
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  1. In a mug or glass measuring cup, add cocoa powder and sugar.  Pour in ½ cup of the milk and use a fork to whisk the ingredients together until smooth.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 2-1/2 cups of milk on medium-high heat.  Add vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Heat milk until barely simmering – do not bring to a hard boil.
  3. Pour cocoa mixture into the warm milk and whisk to combine.  Heat mixture until hot and serve.  Top with a dollop of whipped cream or marshmallows. Or try one of the variations below:

Variations (for adults only!):

Irish Hot Chocolate –  Add a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream to each mug of hot chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate – Add ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and 2 Tablespoons Kahlua to the hot chocolate.  Add a dash of cayenne pepper if you really want to spice it up!

Mint Hot Chocolate – Add ½ teaspoon mint extract or 2 Tablespoons of crème de menthe.  Garnish with a candy cane.

Chocolate-Orange – Add a shot of Grand Marnier to each hot chocolate.  Garnish with a candied orange peel.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Guinness Stew

17 03 2009


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day is a great day to celebrate all things Irish, whether you have Irish roots or not.  Guinness stew may be a bit of a cliché but it’s easy, delicious and very economical.  This recipe requires some time to prep the ingredients (there are a lot of vegetables to be chopped) but once everything is in the pot your work is pretty much done. If you’re entertaining, it tastes even better the day after you make it.  Serve with mashed potatoes, some soda bread and of course, a pint of Guinness.

This particular recipe is a bit of a hybrid – it’s a cross between a traditional Irish stew and a French Beef Bourguinon.  Pearl onions can sometimes be found with the frozen foods or you can peel fresh ones.  When selecting turnip, be sure to use actual turnip and not rutabaga, which is more bitter tasting and much harder to peel.  The chive sour cream is optional but it adds a nice finishing touch to the stew.

Guinness Stew with Chive Sour Cream

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1-1/2 lbs. stewing beef, cut into 1-1/2″ cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 4 rashers of bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1-1/2 cups carrot pieces)
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes (about 1-1/2 cups turnip)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 Tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 28 fl. oz. can whole tomatoes, including the juice
  • 440 ml / 15 fl. oz. Guinness beer (just under 2 cups of Guinness)
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 10 medium sized white (button) mushrooms, halved
  • 2 cups whole peeled pearl onions (about 25 onions) – fresh or frozen
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a large bowl, toss cubes of stewing beef with flour until all pieces are coated.  Set aside.
  2. Heat a stockpot or enameled cast iron pot on medium heat.  Add bacon and cook until crisp and browned, about 8 minutes.  Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Do not drain bacon fat from the pot.
  3. Add beef cubes, diced onions, celery and garlic to the bacon fat.  Sauté until the beef is browned and vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add carrot chunks, parsnips and turnip.  Stir mixture and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add thyme and rosemary and stir until combined.
  5. Add worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, Guinness and beef broth to the pot.   Bring mixture to a simmer.
  6. Cover pot with a tight lid and simmer gently for one hour.  After an hour, remove cover, add pearl onions and mushrooms and return bacon bits to the stew.
  7. Continue to simmer uncovered for another 45 minutes.  The beef should be tender and the vegetables cooked through.  Serve with mashed potatoes and a dollop of chive sour cream.

Chive Sour Cream

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 Tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • Salt, to taste

Combine sour cream, chives and salt.  Stir until thoroughly mixed and serve with stew.

Guinness Stew with chive sour cream

Guinness Stew with chive sour cream

Bon Appétit and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone!

Winter Caprese Salad

26 02 2009


Roasted tomatoes, oregano and balsamic vinegar make this salad suitable for winter

Roasted tomatoes, oregano and balsamic vinegar make a caprese salad suitable for winter

One of the most popular posts on this site is for Caprese Salad.  I did a feature last summer about composing this classic salad in various ways.  Because of the recipe’s simplicity, the key to a perfect caprese salad is selecting top notch ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s February and quality tomatoes and fresh basil aren’t available to most of us.  So why not improvise and create a winter version?  

Roasting winter tomatoes enhances their flavour, making them suitable for this salad. They don’t look as pretty as fresh slices but their sweetness will make you forget about their appearance.  A drizzle of balsamic vinegar gives the salad a bit of body and an extra boost of flavour.  I use oregano instead of basil because it has a heartier taste that stands up nicely to the roasted tomatoes.

Winter Caprese

Like my summer caprese post, this is less of a recipe than a guideline.  If you use the roasted tomato recipe I posted last year, it will yield 16 tomato halves.  Roasting the tomatoes takes some time but once the prep work is done, they go into the oven until they’re done.  I find that winter tomatoes take a bit longer to roast than summer ones so add an extra 30 minutes or so to the roasting time if nessecary.

  • Roasted tomatoes – sprinkled with oregano instead of thyme
  • Fresh mozzarella, cut into slices about 1/2″ thick.  The number of slices should be equal to the number of tomato halves used.
  • Finely chopped fresh oregano
  • Good quality olive oil, to drizzle over salad
  • Decent quality balsamic vinegar, to drizzle over salad
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper
  1. Arrange slices of mozzarella and roasted tomatoes on a platter, alternating and overlapping them.  Drizzle with a spoonful of olive oil and another of balsamic vinegar.
  2. Sprinkle salad with chopped oregano, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

A Valentine’s Day Menu

12 02 2009

istock_000002801671xsmallValentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year which is great for enjoying the evening with a loved one (or a group of friends if you are feeling sociable or are unattached). However, going to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth.  Struggling to get a reservation at your favourite place then dealing with the crowds and overworked staff makes entertaining at home look like an attractive option.  Save the restaurant visit for the following week, when the crowds have died down and you can really enjoy yourself.  A home cooked meal is also a great idea if you’re watching your budget.  The following dishes can be made for a fraction of what a restaurant would charge.

If you’re staying in, an elegant menu is in order.  The main dish (ribs or osso buco), potato and pudding recipes are designed to make four servings so you can either invite some friends to join you, cut the recipes in half or enjoy leftovers the next day. Half bottles of sparkling wines and red wines are usually available if you’re serving two people and don’t want to go overboard.


A Valentine’s Day Menu for 2 or 4 people

Champagne or sparkling wine

Smoked Salmon Spread with crackers OR a Selection of Freshly Shucked Oysters

Scallop Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Braised Short Ribs  OR  Osso Buco with Tomato Sauce

Mashed Potatoes

A bold red wine, such as Sangiovese, Barolo or Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany the main course

Individual Chocolate Puddings

Ice Wine Cocktails with a selection of cheeses

Chocolate Truffles (purchased from a good chocolate shop)


Bon Appétit and Happy Valentine’s Day!



Scallop Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette makes an elegant starter course for a romantic Valentine's Day meal

Scallop Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette makes an elegant starter course for a romantic Valentine's Day meal


28 01 2009


A sample of ice wine at Peller Estates

A sample of icewine at Peller Estates



The expression “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be a bit of a cliché but when it comes to Canadians and winter weather, it’s an apt metaphor for what we do.  Except instead of lemonade, we’re making icewine.

Icewine was first made in Germany, where it is known as ‘eiswein’.  It involves leaving grapes on the vines to freeze which concentrates the sugars.  When pressed, the grapes yield a sweet, viscous nectar that is reminiscent of fruit and honey.  While Germany may lay claim to icewine’s roots, Canada has become a top producer with Canadian wineries regularly winning awards at international competitions.  To learn more about how Ontario icewines are made, visit

Each winter, the Niagara wine region in Southern Ontario holds an icewine festival and this year I had the pleasure of attending some of the events.  A number of wineries hosted special tastings with activities and entertainment.  The main street of Niagara-on-the-Lake was blocked off to make way for a number of booths featuring samples from local winemakers and small bites from area restauranteurs.  

An outdoor ice bar

An outdoor ice bar


Our day got off to a late start but it’s only a short drive to the Niagara region from Toronto (just over an hour, if traffic is good). We stopped at Flat Rock Cellars and sampled a couple of their vintages.  They were also selling icewine marshmallows for toasting over the outdoor fire and their pond had been cleared for skating but unfortunately the ice conditions were poor so no one was out.  We moved on to Peller Estates who were hosting their tastings at an outdoor ice bar.  They featured icewines made from three different grapes: cabernet franc, vidal and riesling.  Like Flat Rock, Peller was also offering icewine marshmallows on sticks for toasting over fire pits. The toasted marshmallows were certainly better than anything you can buy in a bag but they were extremely sweet!  To finish off, Chef Jason Parsons was offering his signature icewine infused white hot chocolate.  It was the perfect drink to warm up with on a cold day.

Icewine marshmallows, ready for toasting over the fire

Icewine marshmallows, ready for toasting over the fire


Finally we went into town for the main event.   At the Fallsview Casino Icewine Lounge local restaurants were offering up small plates of their fare and icewine was flowing freely.   Tokens were for sale at the entrance and samples typically cost between one and three tokens.  There was entertainment and ice sculptors were wielding their chainsaws, producing temporary works of art.  The most popular booth was the 20 Bees martini bar, which featured icewine martinis poured down an ice chute, ensuring the drinks were ice cold by the time they hit your glass (see recipe for the cocktail below).   The food offered was very hearty including pork and beans, squash soup and a Provençal duck stew. 

Icewine martinis are poured through an ice chute

Icewine martinis are poured through an ice chute


The festival is held each year and runs for two weekends.  For information on planning a trip next year, visit  It’s a unique way to experience wine country in the off-season.   A weekend of fine dining, great wine and perhaps a visit to the casino or a spa is the perfect way to chase away the mid-winter blues!



An ice sculptor at work

An ice sculptor at work


Entertainment at the festival

Entertainment at the festival


If you aren’t able to make it to the festival, you can still get into the spirit at home. Niagara icewine is available around the world (I once saw some in a wine shop in Rome), although it’s not cheap.  However, on occasion it’s an indulgent treat that’s worth the splurge.  For more icewine cocktails, click here: Peller Estates Icewine Cocktails.

Icewine Cocktail

As featured at the 20 Bees booth at the 2009 Niagara Icewine Festival

Makes 1 (strong) drink, can easily be doubled.

  • 2 ounces Skyy Vodka
  • 1 ounce 20 Bees Icewine

Chill a cocktail shaker in the freezer.  Combine a scoop of ice cubes, the vodka and icewine.  Shake well and strain into a chilled wineglass or martini glass.

An ice wine martini

An icewine martini


Icewine Jelly

This makes a great accompaniment to a cheese plate.  

Makes approximately 3/4 cup of jelly

  • 1 cup icewine
  • 1 package Certo pectin
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine icewine and pectin.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil on high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes, until jelly begins to thicken.  Pour into a container and refrigerate until jelly cools and sets, at least 1 hour.
  3. Serve with cheeses, foie gras, etc.


Ice wine jelly with Comfort Cream cheese and crackers

Icewine jelly with Comfort Cream cheese and crackers


Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Apple Pie

20 01 2009


The White House at night

The White House at night

Today is a historic day in the United States.  The whole world is watching the inauguration of President Barack Obama so why not mark the occasion with a special menu to celebrate?  The official menu for the inauguration luncheon includes Seafood Stew, Duck Breast with Cherry Chutney, Herb Roasted Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffing, Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes, Winter Vegetables and Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake.  You can get the recipes here:  Recipes from the 2009 Inaugural Luncheon.  

If you’d rather make something simpler but still quintessentially American, why not bake an apple pie?  It’s easy to put together and is always a crowd pleaser (especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!).  Apples are considered ‘in season’ right now because the autumn harvest can be stored through the winter.  I used MacIntosh apples but you can use any kind of medium-tart apple including Cortlands, Gravensteins or even Granny Smiths.    Nothing beats homemade pastry but in a pinch you can use pre-made frozen (uncooked) pie crust.  Just be sure to thaw it well before assembling the pie.

All-American Apple Pie

Makes one 10″ double crust apple pie

Basic Double Crust Pastry

The secret to good pastry is to handle it as little as possible and keep ingredients cold.  The measures for ice water are not exact – add what you need to get the dough to stick together without being too wet.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • Approximately 16 to 18 Tablespoons of ice water  – Prepare a bowl of ice water and use more or less as needed


  1. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir together to combine.
  2. Cut shortening and butter into small pieces and add to dry mixture.  Using a pastry cutter, cut into flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Spoon ice water into mix, adding it a little at a time.  Stir pastry dough every few tablespoons and stop adding water once the pastry can form a ball.
  4. Cut ball of pastry in half.  Sprinkle a clean countertop with about 1/8 cup flour and place half of the dough on the counter.  Press on dough ball until it is a flattened disk.  Sprinkle a spoonful of flour over pastry disk.
  5. Working from the centre of the pastry disk, moving outward toward the edges, roll out pastry until it is thin.  It will be larger in diameter than you need but can be trimmed to fit.
  6. Carefully move the pastry to your pie plate (fold pastry circle in half and then in half again so it is folded into quarters).  Press into pie plate.  Repeat rolling process with top crust.  If making pastry in advance, cover loosely with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Apple Pie Filling

Apples can vary in sweetness so the amount of sugar may need to be increased or decreased.  Taste a piece of the apple mix before baking.  If it seems a bit tart, add a little more sugar.

  • 6 medium  apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (about 4 cups of apple chunks)
  • Approximately 3 to 4 Tablespoons sugar + an additional 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 Tablespoon flour


  1. In a large bowl, combine apples, 3 to 4 Tablespoons sugar (or to taste), cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Using your hands, mix together until the apples are evenly coated.  
  2. Sprinkle in flour and mix again until fruit is coated.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assembling the Pie

  • Pastry (see recipe above)
  • Apple Filling (see recipe above)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spoon apple mixture into unbaked bottom crust. Cut butter into small pieces and dot the top of the apple mix.
  3. Moisten edge of bottom crust with water and lay top crust over filling.  With a sharp knife, trim any overhanging pastry.  Crimp together the bottom and top crusts, making sure to seal it well.
  4. Sprinkle the top of the pie with 1 teaspoon sugar.  Cut two or three slashes in the top of the pastry so steam can escape.
  5. Bake for about 1 hour or until the pastry is browned on top and the filling is bubbling.
  6. Serve with vanilla ice cream, lightly sweetened whipped cream or a slice of cheddar cheese.


Apple pie with flaky homemade pastry and vanilla ice cream - perfect for an Inauguration Celebration!

Apple pie with flaky homemade pastry and vanilla ice cream - perfect for an Inauguration Celebration!

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Maple Nut Oatmeal

14 01 2009


When it comes to breakfast a lot of people just eat the same thing every morning: maybe some cereal or toast, a piece of fruit or an egg and some coffee.  However, breakfasts can be seasonal meals, reflecting the weather and what’s available at the markets.  In the summer, an omelette with fresh herbs and tomatoes served outdoors hits the mark while in winter we might prefer something a bit heartier on cold mornings.

This morning it is -22 degrees Celsius here so clearly something warming is in order. A bowl of hearty oatmeal with toasted nuts and a hint of maple fits the bill perfectly. By using quick cooking oatmeal, you can have breakfast on the table in minutes without a lot of fuss.  While oatmeal is often sold in single-serve, flavoured packets, I prefer to add my own seasonings.  It allows you to control the ingredients so you’re not eating a lot of weird additives and you can sweeten it to your taste (it’s much more economical as well!).  You can adjust the maple syrup in this recipe depending on how sweet you prefer your oatmeal.

Maple Nut Oatmeal

Makes 1 serving (can easily be multiplied)


  • 1/3 cup quick cooking oats
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts OR pecans
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • Whole nuts for garnish (optional)
  1. In a saucepan, add oats, water, salt, brown sugar, nuts and 1 teaspoon maple syrup.  Stir to combine.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil and cover.  
  3. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes.  
  4. Remove from heat, stir and drizzle remaining 1 teaspoon of maple syrup over oatmeal. Garnish with whole nuts and serve.


Maple Pecan Oatmeal on a cold winter morning

Maple Pecan Oatmeal on a cold winter morning

Bon Appétit and Stay Warm!