Coq au Vin

My mother moved in recently. It's a temporary stay and is working out well for everyone. She's got a little spot in the basement. It isn't as cruel as it sounds. My basement is partially finished, and she has a cozy little spot with her own washroom. It's not as if I've thrown her on the dirt floor with a sleeping bag and she has to catch rats to survive. She brought very little with her since she plans on moving back into her house in a few months. The one thing I asked her to bring was her Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'm not sure my request was a good idea.

Now I'm no Julie and Julia. I have no desire to put that much work into cooking just because I'm unhappy with my current job. I just thought I should have a peek into serious cooking and see what it's all about. I decided to try Coq au Vin. It is the classic French dish, or so I've heard. I have to say I felt like it took a lot of my time. Maybe it's just Julia's version that is excessive. If anyone has a shorter version I'd be happy to have it. It was tasty and a hit for all those involved, except for me. It was too much reading for me. I am one of those people who can't dine in a restaurant if their menu is too extensive. I get bored reading it, and I tend forget what all my choices are. And part of the joy of going out to eat is actually conversing with the person I'm dining with. This seems to be impossible if I can't order my food due to menu overload. I also have trouble using most of a bottle of wine to cook a dish. There should be more in my glass than in my pot.

After all my gripping I'm going to give you the recipe anyway, and hopefully you'll fare better than me. Maybe your attention span is longer than mine. I may give French cooking another try but if it doesn't work out my mom may be taking Julia with her when she moves back home.

Coq au Vin
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

4 strips of bacon diced
3 lbs of chicken cubed (I used chicken breasts)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups either full bodied red wine or white
1-2 cups beef stock
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp bay leaf
1/2 lb sauteed mushrooms
3 tbsp flour
lots of butter

Braised Onions
12-24 pearl onions
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup beef stock
salt and pepper to taste
medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 tsp thyme tied in cheesecloth

Saute bacon slowly in butter until lightly browned in a casserole dish. Remove to side dish. Brown chicken in hot fat from dish. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Return bacon to casserole and cook in oven for 10 minutes at 300 C. Remove from oven and pour in cognac, and ignite with a lit match. Shake casserole back and forth until flames subside.
Pour wine into casserole. Add enough stock to cover chicken, and stir in tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Simmer for 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken to a side dish.
While chicken is cooking prepare onions and mushrooms. Saute mushroom in butter until tender. Set aside.
Peel the onions, and heat oil and butter until bubbling. Saute onions for 10 minutes, rolling onions so they brown evenly. Pour in stock, season and add herb bouquet. Cover and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape.
Back to the chicken cooking liquid. Raise heat and boil rapidly reducing liquid to 2 1/4 cups. In a separate bowl combine the 3 tbsp of butter and flour together into a smooth paste. Beat paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to a simmer for a minute or two. Sauce should be thick enough to lightly coat a spoon.
Add chicken, mushrooms and onions to the sauce and serve immediately.


...from now on

Ahh, this is promising weather indeed!

I don't care that there is more cloudy weather on the way - today I am basking in thoughts of tulips by the armful, fresh rhubarb, and my favourite ham recipe, that last hailing from one of my carefully-hoarded collection of Gourmet magazine back issues.

I have much to say on the subject of that ham, and today is far too nice a day to be proselytizing on its virtues - but stay tuned, because I intend to include it as part of this weekend's feasting and I will tell you all about it.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this soup with you. I made it this past weekend and it did a great deal to restore my mood, which lately has been veering back and forth between glum and utterly uncheerful.

Its flavours are bright and bracing, the perfect tonic on a cloudy day, and it's also hearty enough that it kept us all going through a bit of a trying afternoon. Kept us going, and more importantly, looking forward - to nothing but blue skies, from now on.

Lentil Soup for a Cloudy Day

I kept the spice on the mild (family-friendly) side here, but you'd do well to ramp it up a bit if there are not small children dining in your midst.

1/4c olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp red curry paste (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp tumeric
1/2c red lentils, rinsed and drained
3c chicken stock
1 798ml can whole organic tomatoes
1c coconut milk
4 cooked sausages, sliced (I used curried chicken sausages from a local butcher)
fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and potatoes and saute until onions are translucent. Add curry paste, garlic, and tumeric and cook, stirring, 2-3 more minutes. Add lentils, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until potatoes and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree soup in batches using a food processor; alternately, get out the old immersion blender (we have one that I'm pretty sure was given to my husband by an ex-girlfriend - oh, the scandal!) and blast the soup until smooth.

Return soup to the stove over medium heat. Add coconut milk and sausages and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until soup is piping hot and sausages are heated through.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.

Serves 4 for lunch, with leftovers.


Getting On

I was over at my neighbours house Saturday evening and boy did she put on a good spread. It was a casual late afternoon/early evening thingy and there were appetizers galore. There was guacamole, eggplant relish, crostini with an olives, anchovy, parmesan mixture, homemade pizza, lots of veggies, and lots of good drink. I brought a bean dip. It tasted better than it sounds.

There were several other women there. It was your basic chick party. Our conversation was varied and interesting. At one point we started talking about getting older and how our bodies and faces are changing. The words I heard were not all kind. This was a roomful of attractive, accomplished and intelligent women. We should all be patting ourselves on the back for how awesome we are. I'm not saying I don't have insecurities, or that I've never fretted about being the skinniest or smartest person in the room, but I have never worried about my wrinkles or getting old. I love that I look all of my 38 years, and that I've had the pleasure of living this long. I think our society has it all wrong. Why would you fight against aging when you have no chance of winning. I have no desire to look 20 or to do my twenties over again. I look forward to getting older. Every decade holds new possibilities and I'm eager to greet them even if they come with a few more wrinkles.

Here's the recipe for the dip I made. Bean dip sounds boring but it's worth the trip to beantown. It's guaranteed to make you look your age but you'll look good eating it.

Bean Dip

2 cups cooked kidney beans (1-15 oz can), rinsed and drained
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 medium sized tomato
1 to 2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
a handful of parsley
a handful of cilantro
3/4 tsp of cumin
1 scallion minced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
black pepper and cayenne to taste

Peel and seed the tomato by dropping it in a pan of boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove it and peel off the skin. Cut the tomato in half and squeeze out and discard the seeds. Chop the remaining pulp. Put tomato and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blend it up. Serve with veggies, chips or eat with a spoon.



I don't know how people who are not stress-eaters cope with their stress.

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, I can think of nothing that offers more solace than food - and the more indulgent, the better.

(I recently read a magazine article on the merits of shopping, written by the wonderful Lynn Crosbie. She made reference to an era when, instead of going out and buying things, women would get together to eat bourbon-soaked waffles and watch bad T.V. I'm pretty sure she was joking, but at this moment in time, a waffle soaked in bourbon? Nirvana.)

So it was that after an epically trying day not long ago, I found myself scouring the cupboards for a snack that might improve things. I was aiming for something chocolatey and sweet, but filling - so I wouldn't have to think about eating again for a while.

Mindful of my nursing baby, I was also hoping for something that wasn't completely devoid of nutritional value. I settled on baking some gluten-free brownies from my new favourite cookbook.

While I was waiting and waiting and waiting for them to bake (my one complaint about the gluten-free baked goods is that they require a little more patience than their wheaty sisters), and to atone in advance for the overindulgence that was imminent, I made some granola.

This is the granola that I have been eating since I was a child, and it never fails to transport me to a kinder and gentler time.

Gwenn's Crunchy Granola

This is basically a template. I don't think even my mom, whose recipe it is, ever makes it exactly according to these specifications, so go with whatever is in the cupboard that suits your taste.

7c oatmeal
1c wheat germ
1 1/2c unsweetened coconut
1/2c dark brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4c sesame seeds
1/2c raw sunflower seeds
1/2c raw cashews
1/2c natural almonds
1/2c water
1/2c vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine first nine ingredients in a very large bowl, and mix well.

In a large glass measuring cup or similar jug, whisk together water, oil, and vanilla.

Pour liquid ingredients into oatmeal mixture and mix well - I use my hands for this part, but a wooden spoon would work too.

Divide evenly between two large rimmed baking sheets and bake 30-40 minutes, stirring granola about halfway through cooking time.

Cool completely in pans before transferring to an airtight container.
Makes about 12 cups.


Chicken, Greek Style

Ah chicken. So much you can do that with that tasty little bird. Before I had kids I was very queasy about prepping any raw meat. I always had to pass that task off to to those hardier than me. I figure it was a side effect to being a vegetarian for years. I was always fairly handy with a vegetable, but would morph into a weak kneed pile of jello when faced with a dead animal. For some reason having three kids has cured me of that fear. Maybe it's because of all those gross things that comes with having kids. Now I could go on for some time swapping gross stories. It is one of my favorite topics, but I'll try and stick to nice anecdotes about food instead.

I have some lovely friends who are very generous with me and my family. Every summer they lend me their cottage for several weeks. Each year I invite my friend Zoe and her kids to hang out with me and mine while our husbands slog it out in the city. Zoe is a joy to have as a guest since she's a talented cook, our kids get along great and we have a mutual love for summer cocktail hour. She always makes me her Greek style chicken which I think may be the best chicken ever. I tried to reproduce it the other night and it was good but not as good as Zoe's. Maybe it was because I wasn't at the cottage with a gin and tonic in hand. Zoe claims it's all about the marinade post bbq. You need to douse that bird with oil and lemon juice after it comes off the bbq. It just soaks it up leaving you with a succulent chicken to devour.

I am never disappointed with this chicken. It is the perfect bbq fare. Serve it up with a salad and roasted potatoes and you are good to go.

Chicken Greek Style

10 chicken drumsticks skin on
3/4 cup olive oil
juice of 3 lemons
2-3 cloves garlic minced
salt and pepper to taste

Reserve 1/4 cup of oil and juice of one lemon. Put all remaining ingredients in a ziploc bag. Zip it up and shake like hell. Leave it in the fridge to marinate for 1 to 24 hours. Bbq on medium high heat until juices run clear. Once chicken has been removed from heat, drizzle with reserved oil and lemon mixture. Serve immediately.


I used to love making risotto.

Not only did it encompass everything that makes me happy in a food (butter, wine, starch, meat, cheese); making it was a process that I found thoroughly enjoyable, especially if I had friends around. The risotto dinner routine from those days goes something like this:

Heat broth. Pour a glass of wine for everyone. Start the butter, the onion, the rice. Start talking. Splash some wine into the pan. Splash some wine into the glasses. Ladle broth into the rice, and start stirring. More wine, more gossip, more broth, more stirring.

Eventually everyone sits down, flushed from the steam and the stirring and the wine. The conversation doesn't really slow down, because another advantage of risotto is that it is completely uncomplicated to eat.

These days, while I still love the uncomplicatedness of eating risotto, still love the wine and the conversation, the risotto dinner routine has had to evolve somewhat.

It may seem hard to imagine, but I have discovered (necessity being the mother of invention) that a really creamy, delectable and soul-satisfying risotto can still be had without my standing over the stove for half an hour and coaxing it into being.

Friends, I have given up the stirring.

And it has changed my life.

Risotto for a New Reality

By some miracle, my daughter, who has an aversion to vegetables and doesn't like her food to be mixed together, devours this dish. I also buy my squash already diced, and my pancetta already cubed, which adds considerably to the ease of making it on a weeknight (well, any night really) and thus also to its soul-satisfying cred.

2c arborio rice
1/4c olive oil
2c (450g) diced butternut squash
1/4c white wine (optional - if not using, increase broth to 5 1/2c)
5 1/4c chicken broth
150g diced pancetta
2c frozen peas
1/2c grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet with a tight-fitting lid, combine rice, oil, squash wine, and 5 cups broth over medium-high heat. Stir once, bring to a boil, then clamp the lid on and transfer to the oven. Cook 25-35 minutes (I find it takes a little longer if you're using frozen squash), until rice is al dente and broth is mostly absorbed.

While rice is in the oven, cook pancetta cubes in a small heavy skillet until crispy. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Return rice to stovetop over medium heat. Stir rice well, scraping up any crispy bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan; stir in pancetta, peas, and remaining 1/4 cup broth. Cook until peas are just tender, maybe 2-3 minutes. Beat in grated parmesan.

Serve immediately, with a generous grating of black pepper.

Serves 6.



We had friends over for dinner Saturday night. They have just gotten engaged. I never used to get excited about news like this. I think it is partially because I never had any desire to get married so I never fully understood what all the fuss was about. I never wanted the fancy dress, all the attention, or the big day. Maybe I'm just too cheap to spend so much cash on one day. It doesn't seem practical. Hopefully I don't come off as much of a curmudgeon in person as I sound right now.
Jess and I will be celebrating 13 years together come the Fall. As time marches on and I get a wee bit older, I think a celebration of some kind might be fun. I don't think it's some inner need to acknowledge our relationship to the world. I think it's simply a great excuse to have an awesome party, and invite all those we love. So I'm excited about the news of a pending wedding for our friends. It seems romantic and a solid decision for a couple of folks that have already been together for eight years. Congratulations Kevin and Stacey!
Saturday night our dinner was fairly low key with a yummy salad and some home burgers. We started out with some bubbly and stuffed mushrooms to kick it up a notch. This is a classic appetizer that works for any occasion.

Roasted Mushrooms with Pine Nuts

I substituted cashews for pine nuts because pine nuts are so expensive right now. It was still good with cashews but pine nuts are ideal.

18 large mushrooms
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of a lemon
2 large garlic cloves minced
1/3 cup of pine nuts
1/3 bread crumbs
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
freshly ground pepper to taste
salt to taste

Wipe mushrooms clean. Pull stems out of caps and set aside. Coat a shallow bake-and-serve dish with some olive oil. Dip mushrooms caps in lemon juice and place stem side up in dish.
Dice mushroom stems, and saute them with garlic and olive oil. Stir in nuts and bread crumbs. Add red pepper flakes, pepper and salt to taste. Remove from heat.
Spoon the sauteed mixture into the mushroom caps. Bake uncovered at 400 C for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.



It's been lovely these last few days. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and I haven't had to wrestle anyone into a snowsuit in the last few weeks. We even applied sunscreen today. What a March! Let's hope it lasts and doesn't turn around and slap us in the face. All these warm days make me want to drink beer and eat chips. It really doesn't take much for me to have those feelings so it may not be entirely because of the weather. I have been known to indulge even on the darkest, coldest day.

There was a period in my life when I had chips for dinner every night for about 8 months. Now I'm not a complete slob. They were nachos chips, and there was salsa and cheese on them. It seemed somewhat complete at the time. I was in university and continually slotted myself into the 4:30 to 6:30 classes. By the time I'd get home, either due to poor planning or bad eating habits, nachos always seemed like the logical and most desired dinner companion. And frankly they seem like a damn good choice these days as well. It just doesn't seem right to get in my jammies, watch TV and slobber over a plate of nachos while my kids are eating broccoli at the table. So for them I'll resist and wait until they all move out. I'll happily fill my empty nest void with chips once they are gone.

Aside from the classic nachos platter I also love my mango salsa. It's a bit more upscale from my younger days, and healthier. I've used canned corn for the recipe but only because corn isn't in season yet. This recipe is great for leftover corn.

Mango Salsa

1 398 ml can of black beans
2 mangoes finely diced
1/2 red onion finely diced
1 398 ml can of corn
2 tsp of rice wine vinegar or to taste
juice of 2 limes
handful of chopped cilantro

Drain and rinse the black beans and corn. Throw it all in a bowl, mix around and eat with corn chips and beer. Enjoy!



These are not the photos I had intended for this post.

I had actually been hoping for something more like this, but without the glare - because in real life, this cake is a splendid looking creation:

Still, March so far has been such a month of highs and lows, cheers one moment and tears the next, that it seemed more reasonable to let everyone get their hands into the photo (and into the cake) than not.

I made it twice this week - yes, it's that good! And it's that easy! - and would have gone for a third, even if just for the photo op, but the rest of my life has been encroaching on my time in the kitchen lately.

I should have reason to make one more celebratory cake in the very near future, though, and when I do, this will be the one.

Easy Does It Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson

The ingredients in the original recipe for this are measured by weight, which I recognize is not easy for everyone, so I've included approximate traditional measurements as well for everything but the icing sugar, which I find easier to eyeball anyway. In an ideal world, all of the ingredients would be at room temperature before you started, but please don't let that be the deal-breaker.

The Cake:
200g (1 1/2c) all purpose flour
200g (1c plus 2 tbsp) sugar
40g (1/2c) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
175g (3/4c) unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2/3c sour cream

The Icing:
75g (1/4c plus1-2 tbsp) unsalted butter
175g (6 oz.) best-quality dark chocolate
300g icing sugar
1 tbsp liquid honey
1/2c sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans and line their bottoms with parchment.

Place all of the cake ingredients in the food processor (seriously!) and process until a smooth, thick batter is formed. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake in the middle of the oven about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes 10 minutes in their pans and then invert onto a rack to cook completely.

When cakes have cooled, make the icing:

Combine butter and chocolate in a large bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place the icing sugar (I usually eyeball, just over half of a 500g bag to start with the intention of adding more if needed) in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to get rid of any lumps.
Add honey, sour cream, and vanilla to cooled chocolate mixture and beat with a spatula until smooth.
With processor running, add chocolate mixture to icing sugar. Icing should be glossy and spreadable, but thick enough that it will not drip off the cake. If you find you need more icing sugar, add it by tablespoonsful until desired consistency is reached.

Place one cooled cake on a cake plate, up (rounded) side down. Spread about a third of the icing onto the bottom cake, then top with second cake, this one right side up. Spread remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake.

Decorate however you see fit, or not at all.


The Berserkie

I've got a man friend. His name is Neil. We've been friends a long time now, almost 34 years. We met in kindergarden when we were four. I use to go to his house for lunch, and in my spare time I'd beat him up. I use to be a bit of a bully but that's another story. Our friendship has endured mutual crushes, taunts and silent wars, and still we hang out and have a good time. He lives nearby with his lovely wife and two small boys. As of late he is at home with his boys, and is slumming it with us stay at home moms. He loves it and is damn proud of his mom jeans.

On several occasions he has claimed that he has invented a sandwich. He calls it The Berserkie. Although delicious, this sandwich is not for the diet conscious. Neil is not known for his vegan diet filled with fruits, veggies and tofu. A large portion of his diet seems to revolve around dill pickle chips, bacon and Meli-Melo. He's the guy at the end of the party that fires up the bbq to feed the hordes one last round of garlicky Polish sausages that we like to call Honkers. I'm not judging him. He is well loved for feeding us Honkers.

The Berserkie is a manwich if I've ever seen one. I just can't picture a bunch of chicks daintily lunching on a trayful of Berserkies. So get ready to serve your man or your manly woman one of these tasty sammies. It's a combination of fried turkey, maple syrup and melted cheese, and if they don't like it you can always give them a Honker.

The Berserkie

200g of oven roasted turkey
100g extra old cheddar
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 slices toasted light rye

Heat turkey slices at med high heat for a few minutes, stirring often. Discard drippings, and add 2 tbsp of maple syrup and continue frying turkey for another few minutes. Discard drippings and watery syrup. Add the remaining maple syrup. Continue frying turkey until golden brown. Shave cheese into frying pan, and allow to melt. Pile turkey, scrapings and all onto your bread and make a sandwich. Serve immediately.



I was doing a bit of optimistic almost-spring cleaning the other day when I came across this envelope, crammed full of hand-written recipes on bits and pieces of paper in various states of disrepair.

It was like finding buried treasure or reading a diary, all of these food-related memories linking me instantly to the moments when they were created; and, as is so often the case with this kind of thing, reading them left me in a bittersweet mood, nostalgic for some aspects of my old life, and fiercely grateful for who I am and where I am now.

I am not the only one in my circle of friends who has a move planned in the not-too-distant future, so I know I am not alone in my looking backwards with mixed emotions while contemplating a leap forward into the unknown.

We're all trepidatious, optimistic, and sad. We all want to embrace what's coming wholeheartedly, but are reluctant to leave behind the joy of the here and now.

We've all done it before, and we will all do it again.

The good news is that with every move, with every shift, comes the chance to lighten our load a little, and to distill the current chapter of our lives down to its essence before starting anew.

This recipe is one of the treasures that I carry with me move after move.

It was a go-to dinner during a phase in my life when several dear friends and I were utterly heartbroken yet managed to eat incredibly well. It isn't much to look at, but it's the kind of dish that you have to serve and get out of the way so as not to be trampled by people scrapping for seconds; and, although I am not a savoury breakfast person, I have been known on a certain kind of morning to eat this by the spoonful, straight from the pan.

"Pork and Beans"
adapted from Nathalie Senecal

5 tbsp vegetable oil
10 cloves garlic, minced
500 g lean ground pork
1 tsp Thai green curry paste, or to taste
350 g green beans, chopped
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1c water or coconut milk

Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden.

Add pork and curry paste and cook, stirring, until pork is no longer pink.

Add beans, paprika, sugar, fish sauce and water or coconut milk. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until beans are cooked and much of water is absorbed, 8-10 minutes or so.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.


Making Yoghurt

Yup you read right. I'm making my own yoghurt. And let me tell you, it rocks. I'm not sure if it actually tastes better than the store bought kind or if it would win in a blind taste test, but I'm loving making it. It's the whole process of making something from scratch when I had no idea how it was made. All I knew is that I could buy it from the store, and that they seemed too expensive and loaded with crap I can't pronounce. There are lots of food products that I'm not sure how they make them but I want to do it myself. Cheese, crackers, marshmallows, and booze are all future projects. It is legal to make your own marshmallows isn't it? It won't make me go blind?

I also love that I've created no garbage while making yoghurt and that it never touches plastic. I'm not a fan of plastic. Yes I am one of those people. There was a lot of hullabaloo recently about which plastics are the safe ones. Which plastics don't leech hormone disrupting toxins, and carcinogens into our foods and which ones are okay. I'm pretty sure none of them are okay. I think it was just a way of placating the masses, so big business can claim they are being responsible while still producing the "safe" plastics and topping up our landfill. But that is my theory.

When I make my own yoghurt, the milk comes from a glass jar, to my metal pot, to my recycled glass containers. Not a drop of of plastic enters the process and no waste is create. It's awesome. If only my neighbour had a cow, I could go right to the source. Life is hard in the city, not so many cows to milk. Luckily, yoghurt making is pretty easy so it makes up for the lack of cows. Here are the how to's;


3 litres of milk
1/4 cup existing plain yoghurt with live cultures

The first thing you must do is change the lightbulb in your oven to a 60 watt bulb. You can use either skim, 2% or whole milk. I usually do 3 litres at a time but you can use any amount. Heat milk to 185 F. If you do not have a thermometer, 185F is when the milk will start to froth. You may have to stir occasionally so as not to scorch the milk. Once the milk begins to froth, remove from heat, cover and let cool to room temperature. This process will take several hours. Once cooled, remove 1/2 cup of milk and mix with 1/4 cup of existing yoghurt. Add that mixture to the pot of milk, and mix thoroughly. Pour milk in sterilized containers. I like to use old mason jars that I've washed in the dishwasher. Place filled containers in oven with the oven light on and let stand in oven for a minimum of 24 hours. If it exceeds 24 hours the fermentation will just continue which is just dandy. Place yoghurt in fridge and enjoy for weeks to come.


hello, babycakes!

My family recently decided to dip a toe into the icy waters of gluten-free eating.

I know you don't know me that well yet, but you may have already guessed at my level of enthusiasm for such an endeavor - I mean really, I've only just begun to welcome dairy back into my daily life, and now we're giving up wheat? Need I remind you that wheat, not unlike butter, factors prominently in practically everything that is delicious in my diet?

Thankfully I am not the beer drinker in my family, so all is not lost.

Still, I do adore baking (as a noun as well as a verb) and I have not had very many experiences with gluten-free baked goods that I would describe as palatable, let alone tasty.

At least I hadn't before yesterday.

The above is a photo of my first ever attempt at gluten-free baking, and it was nothing short of spectacular. Honestly. Not heavy and crumbly, not dry, not a tiny little sorry excuse for a loaf, but a lovely, treaty, moist, tasty banana bread. I am paying the highest possible compliment when I say that it didn't taste healthy at all.

The recipe came from the BabyCakes cookbook. The book's author, Erin McKenna, is a little militant in her insistence that you follow her directions to the letter, which was a bit of a challenge for me as I have a pathological need to fiddle with recipes. So I did fiddle with this one, but barely at all.

And I'm lucky I got that photo when I did, because minutes later the plate was empty.

I wouldn't call our foray into the world of the gluten-free a full-on conversion just yet, but if we ever do turn our backs on wheat entirely, baking like this will definitely ease the withdrawl pangs.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
adapted from BabyCakes

Where we live, it is cool enough that my coconut oil was solid in its container, so I warmed it in a saucepan set over low heat before using. Also, Erin McKenna insists that ALL ingredients must be measured using dry ingredient measuring cups (not the glass ones with the spouts), so that's what I did.

2 c Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt (optional - I didn't use any)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c coconut oil, plus more for the pan
2/3 c agave nectar
2/3 c milk (Babycakes calls for rice milk, but I used regular old skim milk, because that's what I had)
1 tsp vanilla
3 mashed organic bananas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Using coconut oil, lightly grease a loaf pan - mine is an old Pyrex one, measuring 8.5" X 5.5" X 2.5".

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xantham gum, salt (if using) and cinnamon.

In a large glass measuring cup or jug, whisk together coconut oil, agave nectar, milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and stir until batter is smooth. Gently fold in bananas and chocolate chips until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 55-60 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees halfway through cooking time. If the top of the loaf begins to darken before the middle is cooked (as happened to me), cover loosely with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

Bread is cooked when a tester inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean.

Cool 20 minutes in pan, then run a knife around the edge of the bread and gently invert onto a cutting board. Lift the pan away, and then re-invert the bread onto another board. Cool completely before storing, or cut and serve warm.


My Favorite Slab

I love bacon. Is there anything it can't do? Well it won't make you skinny, that's for damn sure. Bacon and peanut butter sammies, bacon and maple syrup, bacon in my grilled cheese, bacon in my mushroom risotto, really it partners well with anything. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if it were socially acceptable I'd marry a pound of bacon. Not the all fat crap you get from Maple Leaf and all the other big boys but the thickly sliced kind you find down at the market.

I used to be a vegetarian. That may be hard to believe from some of my recent statements, but it's true. When I went off to university I wasn't living high on the hog. I was pretty broke, and it turns out that meat costs a pretty penny. I started making lots of veggie dishes and soon enough I wasn't that interested in meats of any kind. When I did splurge and eat meat, it always made me feel a little ill.

Then along came Jess. When we started dating over a decade ago, he was very committed to wining and dining me several times a week. He made it his personal mission to free me from the chains of vegetarianism. It was all subtle pressure. Every dinner he'd order a meaty appetizer, at home he'd be making tasty looking hoagies, and at brunch he would he would opt for the bacon and sausage. Well what is a girl to do? There is only so many times I can look an enoki beef roll or some crispy bacon in the eye before I succumb. And now look at me, I crumble at the faint whiff of bacon frying. So let's raise a glass to meaty delights and bacon in any form. Here's one of my tastiest bacon combinations.

Bacon Nuggets

12 dates
12 half inch wedges of parmesan cheese
6 slices of bacon

Cut bacon slices in half. Roll one date and one parmesan wedge in a half slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Repeat. Place rolls on a tray and bake in oven at 425 F for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.


a hot, buttery bath.

I went to a friend's house this past weekend to enjoy a rare afternoon's gossip and glass (or two) of wine, unfettered by the requirements of my family (who were, all three of them, safely ensconced at our house just across the street). I had a marvelous time, greedily making my way through several truffled olives and more than my share of a luscious cheese fondue; and when I got home, I made a thrilling discovery:

Dairy does not seem to be the problem it once was for my nursing baby.

I was, besides being thrilled, also a little relieved - had things gone the other direction, and my reckless cheese-eating resulted in hours of pain (for the baby) and misery (for the rest of us), I'd be too busy feeling like a terrible mother to blithely blog about it.

But as I was also very, very grateful for the opportunity to start eating butter again, I cooked this simple dish almost immediately. The broccoli component is enough to make you (well, me anyway) feel okay about the rest of the ingredients; eaten with brown rice, it could almost be considered virtuous.

Broccoli Bagna Cauda

2 small heads organic broccoli, separated into florets
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1/4 c unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 anchovy fillets, minced
a large splash of white wine
a generous squeeze of lemon juice
1/3 c toasted pine nuts
scant 1/4 c freshly grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Toss broccoli florets with 2 tbsp olive oil and the salt and pepper, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast about 20 minutes, until broccoli is quite tender and beginning to brown.
In a large skillet, melt remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and anchovies and saute until garlic is colouring slightly, about 2-3 minutes; add wine and lemon juice and simmer a few minutes.
Transfer broccoli to the skillet and cook a few more minutes, tossing the broccoli and letting the sauce reduce a little. Add pine nuts.
Sprinkle parmesan over top and serve.

Serves 2 as a main course (with rice), or 4 as a side dish.

Sunday Mornings

We used to go out for brunch every weekend, sometimes twice if we were feeling extra lazy. I loved getting up late and strolling down the street like we had all the time in the world to eat our first bite of the day. There used to be a great restaurant in the 'hood called Swallow that served freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and kick ass huevos rancheros with a vast array of hot sauces to choose from. At times we would try and recreate it at home to no avail. We never tried that hard since we knew the real deal was just around the corner.

The past few years there haven't been too many brunches out, but now we try much harder to make it work at home. Every Sunday morning we have pancakes. Jess takes charge and I lounge around reading the paper and drinking my tea. The girls are kept hard at work in the kitchen. Wini is the flour sifter and mixer, whereas Reya has graduated to pancake flipper. Ruby is perfectly happy being our resident eater and juice spiller.

I don't miss my mornings out because I love my mornings in. I may not have my huevos rancheros every weekend but I do have my pancakes and lazy Sunday mornings. Jess is always experimenting with different recipes and stores all the details in his head. Here is one of our favorites:

Finnish Pancakes

Now Jess doesn't like to measure anything so these measurements may be a bit off. You may have to add or subtract a little of this and that. Please forgive him for his lack of documentation.

1 1/2 cups of white flour
1 tsp of salt
3 eggs
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup of yoghurt
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of blueberries

Combine flour and salt. In a separate bowl mix eggs, oil, yoghurt and milk together. Add wet ingredients with flour and salt mixture. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter in heated pan with melted butter. Flip when bubbles rise to the surface of the pancakes. Serve with maple syrup or fruit coulis.