Thursday, January 28, 2010


I've been out of town all week, travelling through the Quebec countryside, spaaing and feasting while we push our way through the snow using various modes of antiquated transportation, among them dogsledding, snowshoeing and even the horse-pulled sleigh ride I'm enjoying here, at Auberge Le Balachon, in Saint-Paulin.
This place is amazing. Not only do they have a great spa and fine gastronomy, but there's also a waterfall-flanked boardwalk, 5km of river skating, dogsledding, horseback riding, a grand caban a sucre, and the new Eco-Cafe, which serves and sells products from over 35 local producers.
Not too shabby for a little inn in the woods.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A sauce that seems scary

But Hollandaise isn’t really scary at all.

I honestly don’t know how this luscious, lemony classic French sauce got its name as a culinary ego killer, but let me tell you something: My brother Andrew is not exactly a wizard in the kitchen, yet he made the perfect sauce (pictured here). Using my perfect recipe (listed below).

He practically glowed with pride after successfully completing my Hollandaise challenge, and then wondered aloud, “So what’s all the fuss about with that?”



(Serves 4)


2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup ice cold unsalted butter, cut into pats

cracked black pepper


Get out a saucepan and a stainless steel bowl that can rest on top of the saucepan. Fill the pot halfway with water or below the point that it’s touching the bottom of the bowl. Bring to a boil then drop the egg yolks, juice and salt into the bowl. Whisk constantly over the simmering water. If you see the eggs start to seize and scramble, immediately remove from heat, plop in a bunch of cold butter cubes and whisk like mad. This should save the sauce. Otherwise, slowly add cubes of cold butter, slowly whisking in to combine. Stir constantly. In the end the sauce should be the consistency of a thick gravy. You’ll know it when you see it. Add some pepper to taste and serve over poached eggs or with steamed asparagus, or beside wild salmon or beef tenderloin, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Snack of the day

Listen, I'm no health nut, as illustrated here, here, and here, but one day not so long ago, through no fault of my own, I accidentally started munching on someone's Cinnamon Streusel Mini-Wheats, and thought, hey, this is a delicious snack, all sweet and crunchy -- and wheaty too.
I almost never buy breakfast cereal but thought I might like some Mini-Wheats to call my own.
And that's when I discovered that Kellogg's has really picked up their game lately, because the last time I ate Mini-Wheats I was a kid and there was one choice -- Original.
Now there are over half a dozen flavours, including Blueberry Muffin, Strawberry Delight and Honey Nut. I chose Brown Sugar, pictured here, and I've got to tell you, my Thiamin levels have never been higher.
Seriously, though a bit of sweet treat, it's also packed with whole grain fibre, has no added salt, is fat-free and provides 50% of your daily iron requirements.
And FYI, I'll save you some time and money by letting you know that Cinnamon Streusel is the best flavour of the bunch.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An inspiration

I had a quick visit to Seattle a couple of weeks ago, where one of the best things we ate was a starter of winter squash “caponata” mixed with tons of cipollini onions and pine nuts at Chef Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie.

The dish was warm and soft and earthy, but perhaps hit too aggressively with balsamic and raisins for my taste (I hate raisins). Meanwhile, the pizzas, especially the airy beauty topped with roasted chanterelles and truffle cheese, were to die for.

I really did like the idea of a wintry root vegetable “caponata” though, so like other great recipe ideas, I stole it, er, made it my own.

Here’s my take on Chef Douglas’ recipe. I don’t mind if you steal it from me, er, make it your own.


(makes one tapas-sized bowl)


1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and dried and chopped into medium chunks

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp chili flakes

1 tsp dried herbs, such as herbs de Provence or oregano or even rosemary

good pinch of kosher salt

few grinds of black pepper

big handful of salted cashews

2 tbsp crispy fried shallots (buy them at Thai or Indian shops and keep in freezer for times like these)

2 tsp brined capers, drained

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

drizzle of honey

extra drizzle of olive oil


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss chunks of sweet potato with olive oil and seasonings. Roast in oven on tinfoil for 30 minutes or until browned and soft. When sweet potato is almost cooked, put a non-stick pan on medium heat, toast cashews, then add fried shallots and capers. Stand back and pour in vinegar. Add sweet potatoes, honey and olive oil and toss it all together. Taste for seasoning and add more of whatever you think it needs: It’s your recipe now.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The curious case of the upside-down spurtle

Who would have thought that a defining difference in the secret language of the sexes could boil down to which end of the spurtle you use to stir? (Let me explain.)

Last year my mom got all of her kids spurtles, a single use cooking utensil, used to stir porridge.

“Uh, thanks,” we all lied.

Cut to a few months later, when we were all up at the cottage for a wintry visit, and I was making good use of my mom’s spurtle by stirring up a big pot of oatmeal.

“Why are you using the handle end to stir with?” asked my brother David.

“No dummy,” I countered, “that’s the beater end of the spurtle. It helps to break down the lumps.”

“That’s just for show,” he insisted. “It’s a decorative handle.” And to prove his point he called the remaining men in the family into the kitchen, one by one, to ask which end of the spurtle they would use. They all chose the plain, smooth end.

And then he called our mom into the kitchen, who, like me, had been using the more useful “beater” end all along.

Suddenly we found ourselves at a crossroads: Was it 'mother knows best', or 'majority rules'?

And so we did what anyone else would do when faced with a similar quandary. We Googled it.

And for the first time in my entire life I was wrong. (But the good news is, my mom was wrong too.)

The men rejoiced while the women ate oatmeal.

The spurtle remains a handy tool nevertheless, good for mixing up all manner of porridge, oatmeal and even rice pudding.

And the more I think about it the more I realize just how lucky I am that I didn’t participate in the Golden Spurtle this year, as planned. Could you imagine the humiliation of using an upside-down spurtle during the world porridge making competition?

They would have kicked me out of Scotland!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pickled resolutions

I’ve got a busy 2010 ahead of me so I’ve decided to go easy on the New Year’s resolutions this time around.

I’ve made two seemingly achievable resolutions, the first being to make some sort of pickle.

With chefs and home cooks banging out their own cheeses, charcuterie, bread and the rest of it, I decided it was high time that I stepped up to the dinner plate and at least tried to make some sort of pickle.

So that’s what I’ve done here with these super simple pickled beets. And in doing so, I’ve taken care of resolution #1.

Resolution #2 is going to be a little bit trickier because it involves finding a boyfriend. My friends tell me the key is for me to make eye contact in public and to stop calling everyone an idiot, but I think they’re wrong about that. Instead, I figure these pickled beets will be the ticket to landing my Prince Charming.


(makes a 1 litre jar or 2 1-quart jars)


6 small roasted beets (directions below)

3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 large carrot, peeled, then using carrot peeler, peel into ribbons until you hit the woody core (discard stem end and core.)

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup white vinegar

1 cup water

1 ½ tsp Kosher salt

½ cup sugar


1. To roast beets, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and dry beets then wrap tightly in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast in oven for 40-45 minutes or until cooked through but not mush.

2. When beets are cooked (beets can be roasted ahead of time) add the red and white vinegars, water, salt and sugar to a small non-reactive saucepan. Give it a stir and bring to a boil.

3. Remove peels from beets (a messy job – I like to do it in the sink), then thinly slice beets. Alternate layers of shallot, carrot ribbons and beets in your glass jar, pushing down slightly so they all fit. Pour hot vinegar mixture overtop (I also like to do this step in the sink – better safe than sorry), screw on lid and let cool on the counter for an hour then put jar in the fridge for 3-5 days before serving.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This just in: Unsung Heroes Festival

Last year I had the pleasure of tucking into a sustainable seafood feast with the renowned environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki at a white-linened table at the Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in Vancouver’s Yaletown. Before long our waitress was sounding off the parade of creatures and creations on the icy three-tiered dinner before us. “Here we have jellyfish salad and a two-pound Dungeness crab,” she began. “This is a sockeye salmon roll, there are prawns with cocktail sauce, here is albacore tuna, this is some lovely sea urchin and we also have a bay scallop ceviche – local scallops done with a bit of pink grapefruit.” She took a deep breath and continued to point out the Kusshi oysters in the middle and Fanny Bay oysters below. The halibut tataki and some lovely honey mussels.

But once a year the Blue Water CafĂ©’s executive chef Frank Pabst takes sustainable dining a step further, by creating a special Unsung Heroes menu. This year it runs for the month of January.

A champion of B.C.'s coastal fisheries, chef Pabst created the Unsung Heroes six years ago, the concept? “Avoid species that are over-fished, or fished in ways that damage ocean beds or cause unnecessary by-catch, by introducing diners to new experiences and flavours using species found in abundance.” Ten percent of the Unsung Heroes menu proceeds will be donated to the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program of which Blue Water Cafe is a founding member.

Here’s what’s on the menu. Let me know if anything is particularly good and I’ll try it when I’m back in Vancouver for the Olympics next month.


Red Sea Urchin: taglierini with red sea urchin sauce and broccoli flowers

Herring Roe: kombu seaweed, bonito flakes, dashi, soy

Mackerel: beetroot, walnuts and golden raisins, aged balsamic vinegar

Octopus: ceviche with avocado, cilantro, lime and jalapeno, bell pepper salad

Humboldt Squid: braised in tomato red wine sauce with potatoes, black olives and parsley

Sardine: stuffed with green chard, artichokes and pine nuts, garlic citrus caramel

Mirugai Ubuki: geoduck sashimi with tama miso sauce

Herring: smoked with pickled honeycrisp apples, coleslaw, cucumber aquavit sauce

Sea Cucumber: stir-fry with fresh vegetables, shiitake mushrooms and hoisin sauce

Jellyfish: marinated with sesame oil and togarashi, cucumber daikon salad

Periwinkles: cooked in a court bouillon, served with aioli

Wakame: seaweed salad with leeks and radishes, soy, dijon and olive oil dressing

Monday, January 4, 2010

Take comfort

Split Pea Soup with Smoked Turkey

This soup couldn’t be cheaper (my guess is this meal in a bowl is half the price of Hamburger Helper), healthier, or more flavourful. And it’s this simple: Measure out five cups of water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add one cellophane sleeve of Manischewitz Split Pea Soup Mix with seasoning, take one smoked turkey leg (I got mine from McEwan -- $3 and, oddly, kosher), skin it and shred the turkey from the bone. Slice a stalk of celery and a carrot or two and throw them all into the pot. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer for about an hour or until pulses are cooked. Check for seasoning. If it’s too salty, add a bit of water, simmer a bit more, and crack some pepper in there while you’re at it.

Next time I’m thinking I may even add some matzo balls. (Call me crazy.)