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Monday, July 30, 2007

Smokin' Barbecue

It's barbecue season and my husband is a whiz with the barbecue. Our barbecue is over 15 years old. It's quite well seasoned and efficient since anything that stands within 15 feet of the lit barbecue smells like smoke. Smoke is so summery, so laid back. It adds to the overall coordination of the meal because whatever we serve is smoke seasoned. I love it.

But I think my neighbours are of a different opinion.

Even though we're very enthusiastic about smokey flavours I had grave concerns about our smokin' barbecue. After the barbecue was turned off, smoke would continue to billow skywards. We were sending up smoke signals all over the neighbourhood.

That's just not right.

The barbecue needed a new burner anyway so I decided to take it apart, clean it and replace the lava rocks. It's not that I didn't appreciate the previous flavours but now my barbecue is clean burning and I'd like to have the choice of flavours.

Even though I think my husband is a whiz at the barbecue I came across someone who I think may be more of a connoisseur at Basting Away in Margaritaville

Basting Away in Margaritaville sent me information about smoking meat on the barbecue. This information is an absolute gem for some one like me who is only an accidental smoker.

"We have a Big Green Egg Grill/Smoker and it uses lump charcoal as it's fuel instead of charcoal briquettes or gas. And to use wood in this you just sprinkle a little of the wood chips onto the fire once it gets going and it will smoke, the more you put the more it will smoke. You can do this on any grill, gas or charcoal.

To use it in gas, you'd only turn one side of your burner on, put the meat on the side the that is off and make a foil pack out of foil with the wood chips in it. Poke a bunch of holes in the top of this pack to let out the smoke. You can also soak your chips to create even more smoke but with an Egg this isn't necessary.

Some of the woods we like, apple, pecan, Jack Daniels Barrel chips, guava wood from Hawaii and hickory. I'd stay away from mesquite, only b/c it's a very strong taste and can be overpowering. Now people from Texas might disagree with that but I've found it to be too strong."

Now, thanks to Basting Away in Margaritaville our smoke signals will have a little more panache and we can finally put cedar smoked salmon on the menu this August.

I can't wait.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Happy Birthday

My grandmother's 90th birthday celebrated in an enchanted garden with her husband (my grandfather) of 68 years ...

My grandfather is quite the charmer. Despite having lost his sight, he never fails to tell his granddaughters how lovely they look. We love him for that!

I'm truly blessed.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

You Owe Me Chocolate

Did you ever wake up realizing the ringing phone is not a dream? What about trying to find that phone?

I love technology. Cordless phones. Cell phones. MP3s ... all of it. Everything now is so small, compact and not anchored to the wall. This only means that I spend quite a bit of time trying to find my high tech gadgets. I'm not above calling my cell phone to figure out where I left it but I'm doubly cursed because I often have to hunt for my glasses too. Too bad my glasses don't have a GPS attached because I can never find them. The problem is I can't see them, especially without them. It's a vicious cycle and invisible frames have not made my life easier. I've just resorted to announcing a bounty to my children if they find my glasses.

Anybody who finds Mommy's glasses gets a dollar!!!

They're older now and if you know the expression that a dollar doesn't go as far as it used to, watch your teenagers eyes roll when you announce the bounty. The indignity of this situation ... since I have to be close to see those eyes roll without my glasses too.

But back to my high tech woes. I have an emergency cell phone and when it rings, I spring into action.

Like last night.

At 3:00 am.

Maybe spring is too vigorous a statement because I just stood upright woozily wondering what I was doing manning the telethon phones in my pyjamas. I was still dreaming. My cell phone was ringing and I had to stumble around in the dark trying to find it. Here I am half asleep, in the dark, no glasses, trying to follow the ringing of a phone like a homing beacon but where the heck is the phone? Down the stairs, around the corner but the phone has stopped ringing. Aha, it's in my purse. I retrieve it, get the number and phone back immediately. No answer. This customer is not available. What?

Now I have to check my list of phone numbers to make sure it is not an emergency. It was a wrong number.

Hey, to the person who mistakenly called my cell this morning at 3:00 am. I have your number and you owe me chocolate.*

*See Dining Etiquette July 20th, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wine Dilemma

I love a glass of wine with my meals but I'm the first to admit that I know very little about wine. Recently I hit upon a system for picking out first rate and reasonably priced wine. An employee at the local government wine and liquor store would write on the shelf labels "Recommended or Highly Recommended by JR*" I was hesitant since handwritten notes seemed a bit out of place in an official government store but I threw caution to the winds and bought a few bottles with different recommendations. What did I have to loose? My "guess and buy" was the worst sort of gambling anyway.

The selections completely knocked my socks off. I was so smug. I had a system and it made me look smart.

This system was a far cry from the time I wandered into a small wine shop and asked for help. After all, I'm willing to be very humble when my knowledge is lacking. I asked the young gentleman to recommend some wines.

Well, these wines on the higher shelves are more expensive than the others on the lower shelves, so they're better.

Here was someone as lost at sea as I was. I mumbled something about needing time to make a decision and scooted out of the store.

That's why JR was such a breath of fresh air. In my smugness I even sent my non drinking husband to the store to pick up wine saying to him...don't worry, anything JR recommends is fine... Hubby came back with a bottle of wine but with a haunted look in his eyes. JR works somewhere else.

Uh ... hubby, did you buy from the top shelf?

Cune Rioja 2004 Crianza ... very nice Spanish selection by hubby.

Wine website with more information on this wine

*not JRs real initials

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cheap Thrills

I picked up a package of Thrills "soap gum" today. For those of you unfamiliar with soap gum, it's gum in the shape of chicklets with a hard purple shell. And yes, it tastes like soap. I've met a few people who don't believe that there is soap gum and people actually buy it. I am only buying it to introduce it to my friends at work. It reminds me of too many childhood threats of a thoroughly clean mouth. But there is this weird attraction, I feel compelled to try it again just to make sure.

Hmmm... the next time I hear an inappropriate comment from my children, I'm offering them soap gum.

Check out this Wiki site for your own cheap Thrills

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dining Etiquette

Cell phones in restaurants drive me nuts.

Unfortunately I have an emergency cell phone. When I must answer it, I leave the dining area immediately. This rarely happens because my life is on a pretty even keel and anyone who pesters me needlessly with non emergencies must buy me chocolate. It's a good system.

Not everyone lives by the same rules.

When a group of friends and I were out one night at a restaurant, a gentleman walked over to our table and stood right beside me yakking on his cell phone. He was completely oblivious to the fact that his hovering converstion was disturbing our table.

We stopped talking. Some pointed glances didn't work and now he had his back turned to us. I picked up my cloth napkin and twisted it. The yakker was so close I had to lean away from him to draw back my arm for a good snap. But snap I did, a gentle little snap on his hind quarters to get his attention. Everyone at the table laughed and he hurried away with his phone still glued to his ear.

After he finished his conversation he came back to apologise. He sheepishly admitted that he had been asked to leave his own table by his friends and he was not paying any attention when he continued his conversation.

We all had a good laugh.

No harm, no foul.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Exercise, Entertainment and Whipped Cream

If you order a Big Mac, fries and a diet Coke the calories cancel each other. Why? This thinking works because it's a reasonable number of calories per unit of weight. It's just logical.

This thinking can be stretched a little further and applied to the volume of whipping cream. If you use whipping cream right out of the carton, it's not as reasonable because the volume is not impressive. But if you increase the volume by whipping it, one tablespoon is a caloric bargain.

If you're like me and looking to add a little exercise into your routine, whip the cream by hand. With a whisk. No motor. Work the whisk in a circular motion and grab some the top of the circle the whisk should be slightly above the surface of the cream. You are trying to incorporate air into the cream to increase the volume.

How do you know when the cream is ready? It's ready when you can hold the bowl over your head without the cream plopping on your head.

If it slops down on your head, uh, it's not ready...

...and I'll be laughing like a maniac at you.

Before you upend the bowl over your head, make sure the cream isn't slopping around from side to side inside the bowl. You're pretty safe at that point. But no one else needs to know that tip.

House rules state that if you hand whip the cream you can eat as much as you want. Dig in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beautiful British Columbia

My in laws just returned from a cruise on a working vessel through the British Columbia coastline. The boat takes a limited number of passengers and travels between small logging communities on the coastline. The crew would anchor the boat to the log booms floating at the shoreline when they reached each community. My father in law would fish off the back of the boat and snag the occasional log. He's pretty environmentally sensitive so he always threw them back into the water.

The West coast is known to be rainy but they had incredible days of sunshine. Except for this enchanting day when the fog slowly burned off as the sun climbed higher.

I wish I had been there. Apparently the company and the wine on board was terrific. They served VQA wines (Vintners Quality Alliance) to the guests... I'm sure that added to their enjoyment. Of course the company was terrific; I have quality in laws ya' know.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kitchen Rules

Cooking Rules

1) Be generous. When in doubt, add more butter.

2) Keep it real. Choose ingredients based on taste not shelf life. It will make you look like a brilliant cook.

3) Have fire extinguisher handy

4) Keep 'em hungry until it's time to eat

5) Serve wine.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


One of my coworkers asked if I would blog about work. She's on vacation for the summer and we're keeping in touch through email. Generally, the answer is no but I think this post will be fine.

Another one of our very thoughtful coworkers brought some fabulous tea and chocolate back from England for us to try. At work we definitely have a thing about trying different chocolate from around the world. It was such a considerate gesture.

But I felt guilty.

When I was in Italy I thought about my colleagues. I bought them some fantastic chocolate.

The reason I know it was so fantastic was because I ate it

... all of it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sublime Summer Mousse

It takes a lot to have me run toward a dessert dish. Part of the reason that I'm not the biggest dessert fan is that too many desserts are over sugared and under flavoured. I've been disappointed so many times. Many times the flavouring is artificial and a taste zings me right back to childhood when I had to take banana/mint/cherry medicine. I am a fan of pure flavours that are discretely sweetened and enhanced. That said, give me a well made dessert and I'm joining the race.

This lime mousse is definitely a cake that has me at the front of the dessert line. Lime cake was a request from my son for his birthday so I adapted one of the recipes from the Epicurious website. The result was a 10 for creamy texture and jumping flavour.

Creamy and cloud light with flecks of green lime zest.... If your limes are small, buy at least 6 for the zest and juice. This makes an incredibly generous amount of filling. Choose your bowls well when you decide to make it! At the end there are two lickable bowls and one lickable saucepan. Perfect for a family with three children.

Sublime Summer Mousse Cake
2 cups graham cracker crumbs 250 mL
2 tablespoons sugar 30 mL
5 tablespoons butter, melted 75 mL
Parchment paper

8 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 120 mL
1 tablespoon unflavoured gelatin, 15 mL
2 & 1/2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream 35% MF) 625 mL
9 ounces pure white chocolate 250 gr
3 - 8 ounce packages of light cream cheese at room temperature, 600 gr
1 cup sugar, 250 mL (not fat free)
2 tablespoons finely grated lime peel

Cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom of the springform pan. Thoroughly combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom of a springform pan. Cook for 5 minutes at 325 degrees F oven (165 C). Set aside to cool.

Little Bowl: Wash limes to remove any coating on the outside. Grate the lime but not the white pith underneath the skin as it is bitter. Squeeze the limes and put 8 tablespoons of lime juice in a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over top of the lime juice and allow it to absorb the juice and become transparent.

Saucepan: Heat 1/2 cup cream in a saucepan to a low simmer. Really tiny bubbles will appear at the edges and a skin will begin to form. The surface of the cream will appear to ripple ever so slightly. Add the pieces of white chocolate and stir well to dissolve. Once thoroughly mixed, add the gelatin/juice mixture and stir until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture is completely smooth. Let this mixture cool slightly as you will be adding it to the cream cheese mixture.

Big Bowl: While the white chocolate/gelatin mixture is cooling, beat together the lime zest, 1 cup of sugar and the cream cheese until thoroughly combined. It will be light. Drizzle cooled white chocolate mixture into the cream cheese mixture.

Medium Bowl: In a clean bowl whip the two cups of cream until it forms peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the white chocolate/cream cheese mixture.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Keep refrigerated until just before serving.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.
Make Ahead: since the filling makes a generous amount, I froze some filling in ramekins. The texture and taste held up beautifully when eaten frozen (yeah, yeah, I couldn't wait). Even if you wait for it to thaw in the fridge - it's fantastic!

The original cake is at

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Under the Tuscan Sun

I am completely spoiled when it comes to visiting my in laws. They live in Italy. Great food, great wine, history, art, and culture. It seems that pieces of history fall out of their back pockets as if it's an everyday occurence. When that happens in Canada, we put up a highway plaque.

This year in I decided to take a cooking course to learn more about preparing typical Tuscan food. Cindy at Tuscan Holiday Consultants runs cooking courses in Florence and at her place in Chianti. Ohmygoodness, the food was absolutely amazing. Completely over the top. Her website is up and running at

If your dream is to have an incredible Tuscan experience, this is the place to start.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chipmunk Victory

Chipmunks 1, Humans 0

I purchased more Mason jars in anticipation of making red currant jam. Too late. I don't know how that chipmunk fits down into his little burrow. With the amount of raiding he is doing, he should be waddling. At least I know he is a healthy organically fed chipmunk.

On the other hand, we discovered why we had a squirrel invasion this week. Squirrels were scampering across our deck every five minutes. My husband didn't think anything of it until he saw one with a plastic bag. Was it shopping in the neighbourhood?

Nope, turns out that we forgot a bag of peanuts in our breezeway and the squirrels squirmed their way inside. My husband removed the bag and two ticked off squirrels were swearing at him when he took it away. Not that he understands squirrel language but hubby said their angry gestures spoke volumes.

He is Italian after all.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Lavender Honey Rice Pudding with Belgian Chocolate

Since the lavender in my garden is a riot of growth and colour I'm working on the flavour of a Lavender Honey Rice Pudding with Belgian Chocolate. Comfort food with a subtle twist.

Please, please make sure to use real white chocolate. Pure white chocolate will have cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and lecithin. There may be vanilla for flavouring. But that's it. If you cannot find a good quality white chocolate, top the pudding with chopped honeyed walnuts. Just keep it real. A dark chocolate is a bit too strong to let the lavender flavour shine through.

Lavender Honey Rice Pudding with White Belgian Chocolate
3 cups milk, 750 mL
1 cup cream, 250 mL
2 tablespoons fresh lavender flowers, 30 mL
5 tbsp honey, 75 mL
1/2 cup arborio rice, 125 mL
Pure Belgian white chocolate pieces for topping the individual servings

Infusion: Combine milk,cream, honey and lavender. Stir to dissolve the honey. Bring the mixture to a low boil and immediately remove from heat. A full rolling boil will cause the milk to separate. Let it steep for an hour. Strain the flowers out of the milk.

Put the pan back onto the heat. Add the 1/2 cup of rice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes. Check and mix occasionally. The rice pudding will thicken after it cools. Once a creamy consistency is achieved, remove from heat. A skin will begin to form on the top of the pudding as it cools. If you do not want a skin, put plastic cling wrap or a piece of parchment paper against the top. While it is still warm, but not piping hot, spoon it into serving dishes.

Presentation: Because this is a very white on white dessert. I thought about putting lavender flowers on top of the pudding.... hmmm, that looks a lot like pot pourri. Somehow buds of lavender on top of rice pudding look like buggy purply cocoons to me. Top with pieces of white chocolate and serve. Put a sprig of lavender beside the dish instead of on it.

Make Ahead? If you do make this ahead, gently rewarm the servings and then top them with the white chocolate. If you eat the rice pudding cold, the chocolate will not melt and the taste and texture experience is not as sublime. Either shave the white chocolate on top of the cold pudding or top the pudding with chopped honeyed walnuts.

Honeyed Walnuts
1/2 cup walnut halves (125 mL)
2 tablespoons honey (30 mL)
Tiny sprinkle of cayenne for warmth, not flavour
Warm the honey so it pours easily. Place walnuts on baking sheet and drizzle with honey. Put in 350 degree F (180 C) oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes. This is a sticky business so you can lightly coat your spoon with butter. Keep a close watch so you don't burn the walnuts. Remove from oven and let cool. Roughly chop the walnuts into coarse pieces.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Grocery Etiquette

Grocery shopping with children can be a challenge any day of the week. There have been times when I felt we left a trail of destruction through the store just like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs through the forest. I have a lot more experience now and I strategize. OK, basically I vote most of my children off the shopping trip island and take only one. It works pretty well.

This week my youngest begged me to push the cart around the store and I acquiesced. (It keeps me fit when I'm jogging one step ahead to prevent the cart ramming into the back of my legs)

Everything is under control, except other people.

My youngest was following me when an older lady cut between us and her husband followed suit. For an eight year old a grocery cart can be quite a challenge to steer and my son swerved. The gentlemen snapped gruffly "Hey, watch out there!" and my son's eyes went as round as saucers. He didn't touch the man with the cart. I was shocked at the man's tone and expression. My son was scared...meanwhile, Grouchy walked away.

How do you comfort your child?

I stuck out my tongue at the Grouchy's back...

My son giggled.

Friday, July 6, 2007


It appears that Mr. Chipmunk does not like lavender and I have a bounty crop. I'm rolling up my sleeves to make a Lavender Honey Rice Pudding with Belgian Chocolate. We've already eaten the first batch. It was good, but not great. I need to tweak the flavouring ... coming soon.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fun Food?

My mother in law always says that when you come to visit her, you come for the company, not the food. That's because she's nice. Me, you come for the food.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pasta alla Carbonara

Check out the recipe for Makin' Bacon Buns from June 24, 2007 because the bacon fat you drain from this recipe can be used for the the buns. Don't cringe, the bread is delicious and you need an appropriate fat for your buns. Ohhh, that sentence can go wrong in so many ways.

The imperial to metric conversions are not scientifically exact. The success of this recipe, any recipe really, depends on good ingredients and adjusting for minute differences. Some bacon may have more water; other bacon could be more salty. One cook may pack their cheese more densely or grate it more coarsely. Some cooks may use salted butter, others unsalted. The recipe depends on you to taste and adjust at the end. Aim for a creamy, slightly salty sauce with a good bacon bite.

Pasta alla Carbonara
1 small onion, finely diced
1 lb regular bacon (500 gr) cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons butter (60 mL)
2/3 cup cream (165 mL)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (125 mL)
4 egg yolks
salt and pepper
1&1/2 lbs pasta (700 gr)

Fill your pasta pot with water and put it on to boil. If you use a large skillet for the sauce you can stir the pasta into it at the end.

Cook the bacon in the skillet until the bacon is crisp. Remove bacon from the pan and drain most of the bacon grease from the pan. Add the diced onions to the pan and saute until soft and transparent. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan. When you cook the onions in the skillet after the bacon it will deglaze the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat and add butter. Stir in the cream and cheese; mix thoroughly. Add the egg yolks and stir. Stir really fast if your pan is too hot - otherwise the egg yolks will cook and lump up the sauce. Add cooked bacon. Taste. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. The sauce will thicken and cook when added to the hot pasta.

Cook your pasta in boiling salted water until al dente - tender but firm in the middle. Drain the pasta and add to the large skillet with the sauce. Mix well and put into a serving dish to bring to the table....or just bring the skillet to the table.

Serves 6 - 10 depending on serving size. Is it one of a few courses or the main event?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Chipmunk Wars

I'm at war with a chipmunk. It's a race to see who will get the red currants first. He has already eaten the sunflowers, lupins and nibbled on a few other choice things. If he weren't so darn cute....

Which one of us will be the winner? The berries are almost ready for jamming. How come he won't eat the rhubarb? I'm more than happy to share rhubarb.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Fire Extinguisher

The most important piece of equipment I have in my kitchen is a fire extinguisher. There is a great freedom in pushing something to its limit. Well, there is also a lot of fear too... but I digress. My biggest cooking lesson came from burning a dish. I lost the fear of heat and the fear of being a social outcast. Learn from your mistakes. Now I now how a mistake sounds, smells, tastes and looks. It tastes really awful.

If you don't make a good dish, make a good story. Just keep the fire extinguisher handy so it doesn't become a very big story. This does not apply when you are in a professional kitchen. They won't keep you around long enough to have really good stories.

Happy Day After Canada Day!