01 November 2014

Gorging Ourselves

November has arrived - the clocks have "fallen back" and winter, for all intents and purposes, is upon us here in Toronto. 

Before winter really settles in and puts its feet up for a long, comfortable visit, we decided to go out to Elora, a small town north of Guelph. Elora itself is a pretty place and worthy of a trip, but we also wanted to go and wander around the Elora Gorge. 

The gorge is operated by the Grand River Conservation Authority. If you're there in the summer, there's tubing on the river - for a fee, you rent your gear (including tube, helmet and life jacket) and then launch yourself onto the river for a ride down the gorge. It's super fun and you should go. 

03 October 2014

Beefing Up

After dalliances with vegetarianism and even "vegan weekdays", I believe I've come to a point of being a conscientious omnivore.  I know there's a whole universe out there that doesn't believe that those two words belong together, but I like to think that I can prove them wrong.   I eat meat once every two days or so, and I've changed my shopping habits to make sure that I'm getting meat that was responsibly raised and slaughtered.  To me, that means cows, pigs and chickens that were raised the way that my great-grandparents would have raised them.

So this is a recipe for beef stroganoff, which is something that I've loved since I was a little kid. It's Russian in origin, but apparently became immensely popular in the 1970s.  It's really, really hard to take an appetizing photo of beef stroganoff, so you'll have to excuse the image below.  I find it hard to really get excited about a recipe when there's no photo, so I figured that even a rough photo would be better than none at all.  Just rest assured that it tastes way, way better than it looks.

Beef Stroganoff

1 lb grass fed beef - a good cut, like a ribeye or even tenderloin - sliced thin
3 cloves minced garlic
2 or 3 minced shallots (1/3 cup of minced onion will do if you don't have shallots)
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1/4 cup of butter
3 tablespoons of flour (if you're gluten free, you can sub in your favourite gluten free flour but you'll only want about 1-2 tablespoons of it - soy flour works for me, or even cornflour)
1/2 cup of sherry, port or red wine (each will have a different flavour, so my advice is to pick what you'd normally like to drink)
1/4 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups of sliced cremini mushrooms
3/4 cup of sour cream
1/2 teaspoon of chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste

To serve: egg noodles or rice (this should feed about 3-4 people, so go for about a package of broad egg noodles and 1 to 1.5 cups of basmati or other long grain rice - follow package instructions to cook)


First off, make a choice - do you want to use two pans or one to cook the stroganoff?  I leave the decision up to you.

Heat butter in a pan over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook till translucent.  Add garlic and cook till it doesn't smell raw anymore.  Be careful not to burn.  Add flour and stir to combine.  Allow to cook - keep stirring - until it starts to smell a little bit like toast.  Add in whatever of the three alcohols mentioned makes you happy, and stir to remove lumps.  Cook down for a minute or two till it doesn't smell so... alcoholish.  Add beef stock.  Stir.  

If you're using one pan, take the mixture and empty it into a big bowl now.  If you're using two pans, just set this mixture aside and heat the second, larger pan on the stove now.  

Melt butter in whatever pan you're using over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms and cook for five minutes until they shrink down and look sort of browned.  Add sliced beef and stir, allowing the beef to sear/cook/brown, but being careful not to overcook (it's easy to overcook because it's sliced thin).  About a minute on its two sides is pretty much good.   

Into this pan, add the liquid mixture and stir to combine.  Add the sour cream and bring to a simmer.  Add the dill.  Taste.  Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Either combine with noodles, or serve over rice.  A side of sauteed green beans is a good veg option.  

Unappetizing Photo:

20 September 2014

Going Rouge

Summer is becoming fall very quickly here in Toronto.  I'm a low-to-mid twenties kind of girl (degrees celsius, of course), so I'm enjoying the transition.  People are layering and canning and putting summer away, sort of bedding down for the winter still to come.  Our social calendar goes into overdrive at this time of the year - I guess everyone tries to get all the visits and the dinners and the drinks in before it starts to snow and we're more homebound.  

This time of year makes me want to go outside; to just go and see trees with leaves and green grass and flowing water, none of which can be seen here past November.  This past weekend, we went to Rouge Park, which is currently run by the Rouge Park Alliance but is on its way to becoming the first National Urban Park in Canada. It's located in both Toronto and York Region, running north-south from Markham through to Rouge Beach on Lake Ontario.  We went through only a small section of trail (Orchard Trail), but it made me want to see more of the massive Park and also to let others know that it exists and is more than worth a visit (or five - it's really, really big).  

Links and Photos

While on our walk, we heard the creek and also plenty of birds.  We startled a blue heron that was fishing in the creek, which then flew right over our heads on its way to a place with less annoying company.  Our walk took about an hour or so, and it wasn't hard hiking or anything - just pleasant mild exertion.  

You should go.  We'll see you there.

14 September 2014

Relishing the Moment

As some of you probably know, Ontario's corn crop has been wonderful this summer.  So wonderful that I wanted to preserve it for the whole year ahead, until next year's corn crop arrives. Corn relish is a golden yellow, vinegary-sweet mixture that is excellent on sandwiches and burgers or as an accompaniment to various roast or grilled meats.  It's hard to find good corn relish in grocery stores, so I thought that I may as well try my hand at making my own.   

A confession: I've never canned anything before.  Not for me the boiling of jars and lids, filling, boiling again, and testing for seals - I wasn't sure that I had the patience necessary for the process.  Turns out though that I could manage it, just as long as it was done in a small quantity.  It may turn into a yearly thing - we shall see.

But for you, a few photos and a quick lowdown on the canning process.  As you can see, I chose tiny jars - the Bernardin 125 mL ones - because I will likely be gifting these, and I don't like to gift a huge amount of something I made just in case it turns out that the recipient isn't as big a fan as I am.   

Canned Corn Relish - cooking the relish

(I'm not going to include a recipe because I used an amalgam of several recipes I found online and adjusted to taste.  The main ingredients to have are the kernels of about 9 cobs of peaches and cream corn, about a cup of red pepper, three cloves of minced garlic, a cup of some kind of green pepper which can include jalapenos or spicier varieties if that's what you're into, a couple cups of white or cider vinegar and one cup of water, a half cup of brown sugar, at least a tablespoon of pickling salt, a teaspoon or so of dry mustard, and a tablespoon or more of green Tabasco sauce.  You boil all that up together for about half an hour, then you taste and see what might be missing.)

Canning Process for Dummies

1. Sterilize your jars.  If you have a "sterilize" option on your dishwasher, use that.  If you don't, set a giant pot of water to boiling, then boil those jars and lids for about 5 minutes.  Remove everything.

2. Even if you have the sterilize option, you will still need to get a big pot of water boiling, so do that now.

2.  Put some of the hot water into a bowl, then set the lids into that.  The lids need to be hot.  

3.  Ladle your mixture into the jar while mixture is hot and jar is warm.  Leave about a half inch of space from mixture to the top of the jar.  

4. Grab a (sterilized) knife and run it through the mixture in the jar to remove any air pockets or bubbles.

5. Put the lids and the rings on fairly snug.  Not "snug" as in you will need 3 strong men to remove them, but snug enough that they won't come off in the boiling water.

6. Put the filled jars into the boiling water, and boil for about 15 minutes.  

7. Remove very, very carefully.  Don't touch - they're hot.  Place on a towel to dry and cool off.  Give them about an hour or so, then press gently on each lid.  If the lid "gives" when you press down, that means it didn't seal.  Set any that don't seal into the fridge to eat right away.  The ones that did seal can go into a nice dark cold cellar or cupboard and will keep for about a year.  

18 August 2014

Hot town, anda in the city

Toronto has a shimmer about it in the summertime.

I'm not talking about the streets themselves, or the weather... it's more about the people who live here or who come here to visit making things seem really shiny.  Everyone and every place seems extra beautiful, extra special, extra real.  Whether they're old or young, talking and laughing in a group, or a couple, or a solitary person with somewhere to get to (and fast), they're out and they're on patios or they're in backyards or they're just walking or on the TTC or on their bicycles... being gorgeous.

And it's nice.  Really nice.  I've lived downtown for over seven years now, and each summer has astonished me.  This summer has been no exception.  

We spent yesterday morning just wandering about the Beach - walked a beach/boardwalk combination from Northern Dancer Boulevard over to Kenilworth Street, then back along Kew Beach Avenue.  The beautiful residents and visitors made the already lovely surroundings sparkle, and it was a really excellent way to spend a couple of hours.


To make sure we had energy for such a jaunt, I made breakfast of anda bhurji, an Indian spicy scrambled egg dish (recipe below), and warmed some chapatti.  This was first made for me by my mother-in-law, and it was love at first bite.  You'll note that I've added corn - I had roasted some Ontario corn the night before, so I had some leftover that I added to the recipe.  Corn is not a traditional add-in, so don't worry if you don't have it.  It added a nice touch of sweetness to the dish, however.

Anda Bhurji (spicy scrambled eggs)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup of minced onion
Scant1/3 teaspoon of turmeric powder
2 cloves minced garlic
1.5 inches of ginger root, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon of pureed ginger)
1 to 3 small green chillis to your taste, deseeded and minced (alternatively, you can cut a slit down the side of a whole green chilli or two and throw them in like that)
1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder
6 eggs (free range, organic - think of the hens, please!)
1/3 cup of water or milk
Half of a tomato, diced small
1/2 teaspoon of garam masala (my favourite blend is also included below)
1/4 cup of cooked or frozen corn
Lots of chopped cilantro - probably about 3 tablespoons' worth
Want it spicy?  Add 1/4 teaspoon of Indian red chilli powder (not to be confused with Western chilli powder, which is a blend of spices - Indian chilli powder is just ground up chillis)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in frying pan on stovetop - medium heat.   Add onion and turmeric, and cook until the onions are softened and becoming translucent.  Then, add your garlic, ginger, green chilli, and ground cumin and fry for two minutes, till the garlic loses its raw smell.  

While onion mixture cooks, beat your eggs in with the water or milk till a little frothy. 

Add diced tomato, corn, cilantro, garam masala, and optional chilli powder.  Stir well.  Let cook 1 to 2 minutes.  Then, add the egg mixture, and salt and pepper the whole concoction.  Keep stirring to scramble the eggs.  Once it looks like it could be ready, taste to see if salt is to your taste.  Add more if necessary.  

Serves 4.  Eat with chapattis or on its own.  

Garam Masala blend
1. I will unequivocally state that everyone probably has their own preferred taste when it comes to garam masala.  This is just what I prefer.  It's great to experiment with your own blend.
2. You need a coffee grinder that's dedicated solely to grinding spices for this.  If you use your regular coffee grinder, it's probably going to make your beans taste like Indian food for at least three grinding sessions.

1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of whole cumin seeds
2 green cardamom pods
4 black cardamom pods
3 inches of cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cloves
1 dried red chilli pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg

Buzz everything up into a powder in your spice-specific coffee grinder.  It'll keep in an airtight container for about a month or so.  

You can also dry roast the spices before grinding them, but that gives a different flavour.  I tend to prefer this one for most cooking.  

11 August 2014

Hanging in Halifax

My husband and I spent an extended long weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) to celebrate his 33rd birthday.  We were able to visit with great friends while we were there, and to enjoy all the hospitality Halifax and the surrounding area could offer.  

The following is a bit of an annotated triptych of our time there.  Photos were mostly taken with my iPhone, so they're not amazing quality, but they're better than having no photos at all.

Day 1 - drive to Lunenburg (it's on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites)
Lobster roll lunch at the Salt Shaker Deli - the lobster was lightly dressed, not overwhelmingly mayonnaise-y, and very tasty.  We had mussels in a tomato-sausage broth to start - they have several options for mussels, but they make their own sausage, which made our decision easy.  

Shopping in Lunenberg - Dots and Loops for handmade stuff, like housewares and jewelry and accessories; Amos Pewter for pewter jewelry, housewares and ornaments; Luvly for Canadian designed/made women's clothing.

Dinner at Two Doors Down in Halifax - we shared kimchi fries and some calamari to start - the fries were great, and the sauce for the calamari was balanced really well between sour and sweet and salty.  My main dish was a bowl of scallop and basil pesto spaghetti, which was a wonderful dish with fresh flavour from the basil and the scallops in each bite.  

Day 2 - drive to Annapolis Valley (Grand Pre is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, too) and the Bay of Fundy
Mussels for lunch at the Port Pub in Port Williams

Walked the ocean floor at Burncoat Head Park during low tide, and watched the tide start to creep back in by marking its progress against a rock.  Views through Grand Pre are incredible (sorry, no photos at the moment) and well worth the drive.

Drove back in time for dinner at Cafe Chianti, an old school Italian place right in Halifax.  To start, I ate seared scallops served with a panzanella salad (possibly my new favourite combination), and for main I had beautifully cooked pasta and meatballs.  

Day 3 - day in Halifax proper
Shopping and breakfast at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market.
Lunch of shared "social plates" at the Stubborn Goat - see photo below of our heaped table that included arancini, stuffed meatballs, and house made pickles. 
Dinner at home of oysters, lobsters, and veg from the farmers market.
Watched fireworks for Natal Day and then managed to sneak in to Cows for ice cream right at closing time before we went home.

Day 4 - last day in Halifax
Breakfast at home with farmers market haul.
Wander around the harbourfront, and picked up a chocolate rum cake to bring home to one of my husband's colleagues at Rum Runners.
Lunch of beet salad and poutine at the Henry House pub. 

28 July 2014


I've been thinking about the word "easy" lately.  It seems to be applied to everything; sometimes in a way that appears dismissive of the time and effort that someone put in to something, and sometimes to try to make an activity seem like it might be more fun.

I also tend to apply it to my own accomplishments or things that I've made, often in an effort to be modest.  The thing is, though, most things that I consider to be worthwhile aren't easy.  They take time and effort and dedication and creativity.

Take cooking, for example.  I cook for a lot of reasons: to eat healthily, to enjoy new flavours, to gain new experiences, to connect with my culture as well as other cultures, and so on.  Whether I'm making a tomato sauce that takes 10 minutes or food for a party of 40, cooking is not easy.  It needs my full attention, no matter what it is.  

The aim is always to be proud of what I've made and served.  That's why it can be quite disappointing or disheartening when someone says something about how easy something is to make.  For the time it took for me to make the dish, I was thinking of nothing but the end product, and all the steps it took to get from start to finish - the right way to chop, how often to stir, when to taste, how to season.

We all do this in our everyday lives, at home, at work, with our friends and our families - just because something doesn't seem challenging or interesting to others, we downplay it and our own abilities.  I plan to stop myself from measuring things in terms of easy from here on out.  Or, instead of describing something as easy, maybe I'll go with "not too complicated" or say that it "comes together quickly".  No more dismissing accomplishments.   

Not-Too-Complicated Tomato Sauce
(for pasta and pizza and anything else you'd like it for)

1 clove of minced garlic 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tin of San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon of sugar - keep aside in case you want more
1/2 teaspoon of sea or kosher salt - keep aside in case you want more
3 torn up fresh basil leaves

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove at medium-high heat.  Add olive oil - swirl to coat.  Add garlic and cook till it no longer smells raw - about 1.5 to 2 minutes (don't let the garlic turn brown - golden is okay, but brown is not).  Add tin of tomatoes, sugar and salt.  Bring to boil, then turn heat down to simmer, stirring occasionally.  Simmer only 10 minutes, then remove from heat.  Add torn up basil leaves.  Stir.  Taste to see if sugar and salt are correct, according to your preferences.  

Sauce can even be made into a soup if you puree it and add a little bit of water or stock.  Great with a baguette rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, then grilled, or even a fontina grilled cheese sandwich.

17 July 2014

The Chain

It's sort of silly to remark on the length of time that has passed since I last posted on here, given that I don't think anyone reads this.  But the reason is that in a lot of ways, I haven't had much to say.  I haven't made any major changes or done anything significantly different with my life in the past... oh, let's say two years.  Instead, I grew busier and busier at work and allowed that to consume my days and nights.  In addition to that, I traveled a little more, I saved a lot more, I took on new responsibilities and pushed off others.  

I grew fat and tired.  Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 32 years old.  Made some lifestyle changes, and attempted to say yes more often to fun opportunities, and to say no when I meant it.  Took a good long look at myself both as an individual and as part of a family and as part of a community.  Tried to be a better spouse, a better daughter, a better friend.  Tried to be better to myself, even when I felt like I didn't deserve it.  

Still haven't figured things out, really: what I want from my existence, and what my existence seems to want from me.  However, the constant for me throughout all of this was my kitchen, and what I could make with my own two hands.  Maybe it's time to chronicle that publicly.  Maybe it's not.  I think I'll give it a shot and see what happens.