Sunday, October 25, 2009


Oh, I knew it would be good. I just never imagined how good the food in Mexico City would be. From dinner at Pujol with top chef Enrique Olvera to the famed El Bajio for breakfast, then on through the market and Sunday comida at Casa Merlos, I can't believe that after only two days in the city I've already eaten so many delicious treats.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My new favourite sandwich

Move over lettuce, tomato and mayo. Now that I’m totally addicted to corn tortillas, they’ve become my go-to sandwich starch.

So, in turn, here’s my new favourite lunch: Shmear one small corn tortilla with spicy salsa and sprinkle with a mitt full of grated cheese. Top with the other tortilla and heat in a small dry pan (or in the microwave) for about 40 seconds, or until tortillas soften and cheese melts. (Full disclosure: If I had had some beans on hand, I would have thrown them in too.) Meanwhile, chop up some juicy tomato, smooth avocado and a bit of cilantro. Squeeze on some lime if you’ve got one handy. Toss the salad (aka fresh salsa) together and add a small pinch of good salt. Spoon mixture overtop the cooked tortilla, then drizzle on a spoonful of sour cream or yoghurt and a dash of hot sauce. I just love how the hot stays hot and the cool stays cool.

This happens to be a very of-the-moment posting, as I'm off to Mexico City tomorrow morning for a week of cooking school. I'll try to blog while I'm gone.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Bavarian Apple Torte

Before I visited the Canadian Arctic, I had no idea I had so much in common with polar bears. Like the bears, I, too, have a well-documented heightened sense of smell. Then there's the fact that here on the southern shores of Hudson Bay, in the transitional zone between tundra and boreal forest, polar bears travel out to the sea ice to hunt for seals -- four pounds of seal blubber is all they need during a typical March day to replenish their diminished fat deposits.

While I, unfortunately, have no diminished fat deposits, I did plan to increase my fat intake by feasting at the Dymond Lake Lodge, from where matriarch Helen Webber and her friend Marie Woolsey developed an incredible collection of recipes, all of which are served here and available in a nine-cookbook self-published series, including Blueberries and Polar Bears, Black Currants and Caribou and Icebergs and Belugas. More than 100,000 copies of the books have been sold based mostly on word of mouth.

An idyllic spot where naturalists, fisher folk and hunters alike return time and again for its isolated beauty and big-payoff hunting seasons, Dymond Lake Lodge is equally known for its culinary repertoire of honest cooking based on local fish and game served in heaping portions with a big dose of awe-shucks charm.

Breakfasts always include excellent dark-roast coffee, fresh-baked bread or cinnamon buns, fruit, a big dish of Red River cereal, and a daily special of, say, maple-marinated walleye, winningly deep-fried into fish beignets.

But dessert is always the real highlight, and the reason why I bought Blueberries and Polar Bears. I wanted to recreate these meal toppers at home.

It must be noted that while this dessert comes from the cookbook, author Helen does mention that the recipe actually came from an Australian friend who was a nurse in Churchill. So, like most great recipes, who knows where it really came from in the first place? (Although my guess is Bavaria.)


(serves 8)


For crust

¼ cup sugar

½ cup melted butter

1 cup flour

½ tsp vanilla

For filling:

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature (that’s a whole block)

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

For topping:

4 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (about five big ones)

½ cup sugar

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup ground or slivered almonds


  1. Mix together the sugar, melted butter, flour and vanilla. Press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
  2. 2. Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the pastry-lined pie plate and smooth it out.
  3. Mix together the apples with sugar and cinnamon, then carefully spoon over the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with almonds.
  4. Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 45-55 minutes or until the apples are tender and crust is lightly browned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

10 food-related reasons why I love autumn

10. Fresh nuts from the shell using a nutcracker. ‘Tis the season.

9. Oktoberfest!

8. Roasted vegetables: I always feel like I get an extra boost of beta-carotene during fall.

7. Mother Nature’s broad-strokes of gold, crimson and orange, along with the harvest moon, are all vibrant reminders of the earth’s bounty.

6. The aroma of chimney smoke makes city streets smell like the country, which also reminds me where our food grows.

5. Halloween candy! And caramel apples!

4. Summer’s over and winter’s not yet here. Now’s the time to ride the wave of nature’s most soulful season. Sure, there’s pumpkin and other squash. But think about larger joints of meat, or birds and stuffing, oily fish like sardines and mackerel, and seasonal cakes and pies (pumpkin, pecan, apple and the like). It’s like the holidays, minus the extra fat and humiliating office Xmas party PDAs.

3. I find the colour-burst of trees so breathtaking that I’m almost afraid to drive (I’m easily distracted.) So I walk a lot, in the cool temps with a warm fleece under a blue sky. And then I reward myself with a great latte and fresh-baked treat from one of my area coffee shops.

2. Roasted chestnuts.

1. Time to make the switch from G&Ts back to red wine!

Monday, October 12, 2009

As promised – Meat!

Last Recipe Monday I promised that this time around I’d dish out something meaty for you. Le voila!

I had never tried the ancient technique of smoking food before, but when my brother Marty found a kettle smoker set by the road for trash pick-up, he took it home, refurbished it and brought it to the family cottage. And there it sat on the deck for the better part of a year.

But with time on my hands a big group coming up for a summertime weekend, I decided we should risk the 6lb brisket my mom had bought, and either wow the crowd, or go down in a blaze of glory.

A couple of years ago I was a judge at the Canadian Open Barbecue Championships in Barrie, along the shores of Kempenfelt Bay, where I ate more food than anyone really should in one sitting. And it was there that my interest in smoking was first piqued. The preparation was simple and the barbecuing was lively and almost universally delicious. The key ingredient, I learned, was time. Lots of it.

Still, I was confident that this was something I could do. I just needed a plan. So I perused the Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen, the master on the subject, and set to work on my beefy mission.

As instructed, I threw together a dry rub, massaged it into the brisket, and then put it in the fridge to let it cure overnight. I bought some hickory chips, made sure we had charcoal on hand, and I went to bed. I’m not going to lie. I dreamed about meat that night. Deeply.

By 11 am the next morning I had my brother Andrew start up the fire while I soaked the chips in cool water. Before long, we were smoking the brisket on the smoker, using indirect heat from the attached charcoal compartment. We tossed on some soaked chips every once and a while and monitored the temperature within the smoker to be sure it didn’t get too hot.

As expected, I got bored after 45 minutes, so went inside to make some homemade barbecue sauce, then went swimming for the better part of the afternoon while Andrew took over smoking duties. About eight hours later, I slathered the fully cooked smoked brisket with my sauce and threw it on the barbecue to get some char on the outside with some good sticky bits (Raichlen doesn’t say to do this but he’s not the boss of me.)

By 8pm we all sat down to a dinner of the single best piece of food that I have ever made.

With fall coming on strong, winter can’t be far behind. I suggest you try this one before the mercury dips below zero. It really is an all-day project.


(serves 10-12)

Advance Prep:

4-8 hours (or overnight) curing of meat. The next day, allow for 6-8 hours of smoking

Special Equipment:

6 cups hickory or mesquite chips or chunks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained


1 beef brisket (5-6 lbs), with a layer of fat at least ¼ inch thick, preferably ½ inch thick

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp cumin

(*I didn’t follow his rub recipe. Instead, I combined lots of salt and brown sugar with a little black pepper and touch of cayenne.)


1. Rinse the brisket under cold water and blot dry.

2. Make dry rub and massage it into brisket on all sides. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

3. The next day, set up the charcoal grill or smoker for indirect heating. When ready to cook, toss 1 ½ cups of the wood chips on the coals. Place the brisket, fat side up, in an aluminum foil pan and place the pan in the centre of the grate, away from the heat. Bring lid down over grill.

4. Smoke cook the brisket until tender enough to shred with your fingers; six-eight hours will do it. Baste the brisket with the run off juices from time to time. All the while, keep replenishing the coals and chips. You should maintain a cooking temperature in the smoking chamber of about 250-270 degrees. Check in on it about every half hour.

5. If not mobbing it with barbecue sauce and then quick grilling it like I did, do what Raichlen says, and remove brisket from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slice against the grain, transfer the sliced meat to a platter, pour the pan juices on the top and serve at once.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This just in: The Blue Mountains Apple Pie Trail

I can't say I love apple pie but I do love apples. Just about every kind, except for the wrongly named Red Delicious, which is anything but.
Yet I know cheers will be ringing through Ontario's Blue Mountains with the launch of its new Apple Pie Trail. We're talking a year-round food trail that runs from Collingwood through the Blue Mountains, to Thornbury and Meaford, with 21 appley stops along the way, ranging from Grandma Lambe's apple pie and U-pick apples at the Farmer's Pantry to a French apple tart at Cafe Chartreuse and the sour cream apple crumble tart from Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill, pictured here. Let's just say, the doctor won't be calling on you anytime soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Condemned furnace vegetable soup

In Part 2 of our continuing series on “My century old house is falling to pieces” – Part 1 was the fridge saga and I actually didn’t even fill you in on the real Part 2, which involved raccoon removal and a new roof.

But when the weather cooled down for good and we went to turn on the furnace last week, it was a no-go. So we called Direct Energy and the nice repairman was here within two hours (score!). But after a half-hour of fiddling he shook his head and explained that the news wasn’t good (waaa). He pointed out the rust and internal corrosion and even held out a broken bit for me to touch. He explained something to the effect of water vapours and certain volatile gasses being a bad mix and that “blah blah blah…” while I nodded attentively as I silently hummed the theme to ‘I Dream of Genie’ in my head.

Before I knew it I was signing a piece of paper and my furnace was condemned. And then I went back upstairs and did the only thing I could do: I pulled on a fleece and made a pot of soup.

Okay, I was going to end this blog entry right there, but you know something? Now that I’m looking at this recipe and clicking through my last dozen or so postings, I’m realizing I’ve been on a bit of a health kick without really meaning to be, and that’s not really fair to you. After all, this isn’t a health food blog.

Funny story: I bought a scale a few months ago because I had no idea how much I weighed. Now that I know, I’ve been weighing myself almost daily (actually, this may explain the aforementioned health kick). I’ve found that I can go up and down by a few pounds each day, which I think is kind of weird. But things took an even stranger turn a couple of days ago...

On a morning like any other, I stepped on the scale, looked down and to my utter joy I found I was almost 12 pounds lighter than the day before. I couldn’t believe it! I looked in the mirror and felt my elbows and pinched my cheeks (both sets) and for a good half hour I was convinced I had magically lost a ton of weight overnight. I couldn’t wait to tell Oprah!

But then after my morning tea logic set in and I walked back into my bedroom and that’s when I noticed I had accidentally kicked the dial the last time I got on the scale and it was actually set back by 10 pounds. (Darn it!)

So, long story short, next Recipe Monday will be something either meaty or gooey (or both.)

Take that -- you stupid scale.

And take this -- you stupid furnace.


(serves 6+)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 large potato, peeled and chopped

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped

small pinch, sugar

large pinch, sea salt

medium pinch, pepper

½ cup your favourite tomato sauce

5 cups flavourful stock (either veg or Pareve chicken)

1 bunch kale, curly bits ripped from tough vein and stems (trash the stems)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well.


Cook all prepped vegetables, except for kale, in oil for about 7 minutes, then add tomato sauce and stock and simmer for 10 more. Add prepared kale and drained chickpeas and cook, covered for 10 minutes or until everything is cooked and it looks great. Taste for additional seasoning, then dish it out with some multigrain toast for dipping.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

That's fresh

I was sent this bounty of fresh local fruit and vegetables from the PR reps at Loblaws. A promotional grab bag to be sure, nevertheless it's one I can get behind.

We especially enjoyed the watermelon, peaches and cauliflower. The blueberries were sour though. (I’m just saying.) Hey, remember that Seinfeld episode when Kramer was banned from the fruit store?

This cornucopia of fresh fruit and veg arrived in late summer, so the photo and its contents are a bit out of date, but in a late-breaking development, I just got in from shopping at Metro and without even trying every bit of fresh produce I bought was locally grown, including kale, lettuce, potatoes, celery, squash, apples and grapes.

I know we’re all sick to death about hearing that old “buy local” refrain. But when they make it this easy (and tasty), why wouldn’t you?