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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Strawberry Sorbet

A strong muscle bound blender is required if you make this sorbet with frozen fruit. An ice cream maker is required to make this sorbet with fresh fruit.

Simple Syrup

2 cups sugar (500 mL)
1 cup water (250 mL)

In a medium saucepan over high heat, cook sugar and water stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture reaches a full rolling boil. Immediately remove from heat and cool to room temperature. If the syrup is left to boil you will be on the road to caramel. Store the syrup in the fridge to cool. Simple right?

A lighter (less sugar) syrup intensifies the fruit taste but will yield a grainier sorbet and a heavier (more sugar) syrup yields a sweeter smoother sorbet.

Strawberry Sorbet

2 cups of individually frozen strawberries (1/2 liter or 12 oz/750g)
1 cup simple syrup, cooled (250 mL)
Juice of ½ lemon

Pour everything in blender and whiz until smooth. If you don’t have a strong blender that can crush ice cubes, use fresh strawberries and puree the ingredients in the blender before transferring to an ice cream maker.

Serves 5-6 people. The portions are small because the taste is intense, especially if you substitute raspberries. Round out the flavour and presentation with a top quality French vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or creme anglaise.

....What about other fruit?

Use fruit that is in peak season or fruit that has been frozen at its peak. It will make the difference between a good sorbet and a great sorbet that has people moaning at the table. Blueberries are fantastic. Raspberries taste amazing but you have to strain out most of the seeds. Any fruit that yields a good deal of pulp when pureed will work. But the fruit must be ripe and tasty.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bullet Jam

Every year after the last day of school the children and I have our own version of a "Strawberry Social". This is an important bonding time for all of us. I gather up all the baskets we own and we trot off to the local PYO (Pick Your Own) field. In order to have my children understand how to pick berries, they have to taste them. They try an over ripe berry - one with no blemishes. An over ripe berry has a slight funny bitter aftertaste and squishes when picked. An under ripe berry makes them pucker and makes their mother laugh.

When we're in the field, it's a constant PR campaign to have them engaged. I tell them stories about when I was young (queue violins) and we would pick wild strawberries. Each one was so tiny it took forever to fill a basket but the jam my mother made had an intense pure strawberry taste.

Then came the year of the bullet jam. We picked strawberries one year when it had been particularly dry. The end of the berry was packed with seeds since the lack of rain never swelled the fruit to its full potential. Wild strawberries are a scarce commodity and my mother did not want to waste any part of the berry. She hulled the berries but left the tightly clustered seed end intact. She mashed the berries and made a terrific tasting jam - but the little seed clusters did not break apart. They remained intact. We teased her by always asking for the "bullet" jam. However, we never stopped inhaling it. It was that good.

The social part of our "Strawberry Social" is the enjoyment my children get out of the teamwork of a job well done..... hey, I'm building character here - I'm not an amusement park.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Haut Fast Food

Beans are a poor man's caviar.

I love good food fast and this is my favourite fast comfort food. Truffle oil with canned beans. It's the food version of wearing a ball gown to go bowling. Totally overdressed but fun. You can cook the beans from scratch but how fast is that?

Since a small bottle of truffle oil (60mL/4 tablespoons) equals the cost of about 11 cans of beans you need a swankier name for this dish.

Crude Truffled Vegetarian Cassoulet
1 can of mixed beans, such as chickpeas, kidney beans etc, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons/30 mL truffle oil (adjust for taste and budget)
Sea salt

Dress beans with truffle oil and sea salt. Serve on bed of lettuce.... cold.

Crude, very very crude.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Makin' Bacon Buns

Homemade bread is my secret weapon. It's an earthy scent that wafts out to welcome friends to my table. For my family, it's a distraction to the fact I'm serving leftovers....again.

One meal often feeds into another at my house. Leftover rice becomes suppli, leftover grilled vegetables turn into a Mediterranean soup and leftover pizza becomes, well, breakfast. When we use all of our food I feel we're honouring the farmers who provided the food for our tables. I've also inherited a frugal streak from my grandmother who said that you could make soap from leftover bacon fat. Hmmm, I wonder what that would smell like?

As a result, I've had the bacon fat on my mind when I came across a recipe for Bacon Buns from the website A Year in Bread
Hands down, this was one of the most clear and easy recipes for bread that I've used. The texture was fantastic even though I didn't have whole wheat flour - but I'll make sure to include it next time.

Now ghost of my Pasta alla Carbonara is reincarnated and the leftover legacy lives. My grandma will be so proud.

Smart Food

Smarties, chocolate and cupcakes disguised as a cake. Definitely a crowd pleaser for the munchkins because we're all about the fun at a birthday party.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Just Add Hot Water

This week I was rushing around in the morning, doing laundry, washing dishes, tidying up and preparing for work when I realized the plants outside needed water. My youngest spent a lot of time nurturing tomato plants and sunflowers from seed. They were healthy and vigorous and almost ready to transplant. These were his babies; they were not going to die on my watch.

So I filled my watering can and hustled outside to give them a drink. While I was there I pulled a few weeds from my herb garden. Since my hands were dirty I decided to rinse them with the remaining water from my watering can. The water was warm... really really warm. I am just crossing my fingers that I didn't kill the plants......

Good news. The plants survived the warm bath but an animal ate the sunflower plants. I feel bad - but not guilty.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Playing Fetch

I've discovered new variations of the game fetch. When my children were babies, they would fling toys out of their crib, highchair or stroller just to see mommy scrambling around searching for their things. It was a great source of entertainment for them.

Now, my husband and I have a different variation of that game. My housecleaning unearths items of dubious quality and I chuck them in the garbage can. My husband, a more knowledgeable connoisseur of usefulness than me, immediately sees the value in the disposed item and rescues it.

Guess what honey? Our next game is hide and seek.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gag Rule

The care and feeding of food critics is a tough row to hoe. Especially when those food critics are your family. We have a rating system for food in our house. A new dish is under scrutiny by the entire family and each rates the dish from 1 - 10. A perfect 10 means that we are eating a "make it again and often dish". A rating of five means that it is just okay; it will be neither missed nor requested. Below five indicates that the dish will not be made again. Dishes that are barely edible, I've made a few, are given a one. A score below one and in the trash it goes. I've never served anything that threatened their health, just their sense of taste.

Except for my youngest, my children tell me specifically what would improve a dish in their opinion. It is much easier to listen to their comments than to hear gagging - intentional or not. They have become more articulate as they grow and now they are more interested in making their favourite dishes. My youngest still uses the Roman Emperor signal - thumbs up for great and thumbs down to indicate trash can contender.

I think this system works. My children will testify that I haven't made an all out gagger in a while.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Keats eh?

My husband's grandmother is an amazing cook. She lives in Emilia-Romagna, the kitchen of Italy. My husband rushed over to Italy to visit her when she was hospitalized two years ago. She looked up from the hospital bed and her greeting was "Are you hungry? Has any one fed you yet?" She's home now and we're all thankful she is well.

Today, at 91 years of age, she has passed on her skills and recipes to her daughter and I am trying to absorb as much as I can. They gave me this recipe which is a childhood favourite of my husbands. I'm including both the original Italian as a tribute to Nonna and my translation/interpretation. This recipe is huge, as I discovered. We had enough chizze for three days of meals.

Chizze - Fried Gnocchi
2.2 pounds of cake flour, 1 kg
4-5 tablespoons oil, 60 - 75 mL
2 cups milk, warm, 1/2 L
1 ounce salt, 30 gr
(if you would like, a bit of baking powder - it will lighten the dough)

1 pound Emmenthal cheese, 500 gr
Oil for frying

Mix the flour, oil, salt and baking powder and add the warm milk a little at a time. Mix and knead well. Roll the dough thinly and cut into squares about 10 cm square. Put a slice of emmenthal or swiss cheese on the square and fold the dough over it. Pinch closed - use a bit water if the dough has dried and won't stay closed. Fry in a generous amount of hot oil; the gnocco should float. Brown on one side and turn. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Classic Version
Instead of milk, use carbonated water and a bit of yeast. I added about 2 teaspoons of yeast to the dough and let it rest for an hour to develop the flavour.

To pronounce chizze. Start with pizza ... now say kizza. You're close. Switch into Canadian by saying kizz - eh. Sounds like Keats-eh?

If you're curious about the different classifications of flour between Italy and North America check out this website

Gnocco Fritto e Soffice
1 kg farina 00
4-5 cucchiai olio
½ L latte
30 gr sale
(se vuoi, un pizzico di bicarbonate)

Mescolare farina, olio e sale (e bicarbonate) e aggiungere poco alla volta il latte intiepidito. Impastare bene. Ricavare quadrati sottili e friggere in abbondante olio bollente. Scolare su carta assorbente.

Mettere emmenthal a pezzetti sui quadrati di pasta e piegarli a meta’ chiudendo bene (premere) Friggere come sopra.

Gnocco Classico
Al posto del latte, mettere acqua frizzante e un pizzico di lievito.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Craving Salsa

A Corona, a bag of nachos and some freshly made salsa and I'm a happy woman on a hot day like today.

The nip of fresh garlic and burn of jalapeno peppers is one of my summer snacking pleasures. When I use fresh ingredients the flavour of salsa always varies. Every batch has its own unique bright fresh taste. Unfortunately even though I love cilantro, I never have it on hand at a convenient time. If it is in my fridge, it has usually become a bag of green slime by the time I think of using it.

I know canned tomatoes and tomato paste are not fresh ingredients but open them at the last minute if it makes you feel better. Tomato paste adds a smoother consistency. Feel free to dice a whack of fresh tomatoes instead of using canned if you want to feel particularly virtuous. I'll be on the patio when you're finished.

Tomato Salsa

1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, 796 mL
4 fresh ripe tomatoes, diced small
1 large onion, diced small (Vidalia if you have it)
3 finely minced jalapeno peppers
3 cloves finely minced garlic
1 small can tomato paste 5&1/2 oz, 156 mL
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 45 mL
1 tsp sea salt or pickling salt, 5 mL
2 tsp cumin, 10 mL or 3 Tbsp finely minced fresh cilantro

12 pack of Corona, chilled
Limes cut into wedges to fit the bottles of Corona

Mix the first nine ingredients together. Add more garlic or salt to taste. Makes a party amount - 6 cups/ 1.5 L....and that's why you need that much Corona - for your friends.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Happy Feet vs. Linux

There are some budding entrepreneurs in my neighbourhood. On nice Saturday mornings some of the kids haul out their used toys in hope that someone will buy them and fund the purchase of newer more desirable toys. The newer toys in question are sometimes purchased from the table two driveways down and around the corner. It’s a nice thriving little economy.

One little neighbour was doing a great job for two hours on Saturday but there were a few leftovers. One leftover was a stuffed penguin. To his father, it looked like a Linux logo but to me the penguin looked like Lovelace the guru in the film Happy Feet - without the six pack ring necklace. Marketing is everything; so I went back home and pried a six pack ring off a pack of pop. The kids thought it was a great idea but no buyer stepped up to the plate. Now the young entrepreneur is keeping the more attractive accessorized penguin to the detriment of our local economy.

The last we heard, the penguin was freed from its inhumane necklace.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rhubarb Leaves are Poisonous

My mother always had rhubarb in the garden. We would get a bowl of sugar and eat a stalk of rhubarb, dipping the stalk into sugar after every bite. We would alternately pucker in mock agony over the tart taste and reach for more.

When I left home, I abandoned rhubarb as a tortured treat; however my new family home had a colossal rhubarb plant in the garden. What do you do with 10 pounds of rhubarb? Eat five pounds of sugar? I would harvest the rhubarb and foist it onto our neighbours. I split the root and redistributed it among friends. I transplanted the plant to a neglected place in the garden to curtail its fertility. It took me years to learn to cook with rhubarb and appreciate its unique taste. Now the shoe is on the other food and I have a neighbour who has no ideas about rhubarb. This recipe is dedicated to him.

Rhubarb Sour Cherry Compote This sauce has a more sophisticated pucker factor and is fantastic with French vanilla ice cream.

2 cups/250 mL of rhubarb stalks, sliced thinly
2 cups/250mL GF sour cherries in syrup
1 cup/250 mL white sugar
2 tablespoons/30 mL cornstarch + 2tbsp/30 mL cold water

Put first three ingredients, sliced rhubarb, sour cherries, and sugar into a heavy saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Reduce the heat and simmer until rhubarb is tender.

Mix 2 tablespoons/30 mL of cold water with the cornstarch. Once the rhubarb is tender, add this to the mixture. The mixture will appear cloudy. Cook, while stirring, until the mixture becomes clear and thickens. Remove from heat.

Dear neighbour. Thank you for the offer of the rhubarb. I helped myself. I know you are unfamiliar with this vegetable since it isn't native to your country. I thought this recipe would help you the next time you are inundated with rhubarb. Thank-you kind neighbour for your generosity. Oh... that pile of leaves I left should be discarded. I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you that rhubarb leaves are poisonous.

Moose Meat Art

Truckers Guide to Art

Be patient. This is a long winded post.

There are only three main categories of art in the world. Yep, three. And the big secret is that anyone can appreciate, dissect and discuss art with these guidelines to the three categories.

First of all, let me point out my qualifications to spout off on this theory. I am bourgeois. The first time I started wearing black was when my marks in art school started slipping. My plaid flannel shirt and my story of the moose hanging in our yard were just not cutting the mustard. I wore black; my marks went up. This isn’t a direct correlation – I actually was more industrious. But it’s a lot funnier to think that black equals success in art. I only wear black turtle necks now because I’m older and I’m hoping it will bind my second chin to my neck.

I call my three principles of art “The Truckers Guide to Art” because truckers are known to travel from point A to point B in the most direct, efficient and practical manner possible. Also, I’m sure a trucker would run me over if I started expounding polysyllabic art theories… but if I had a good moose story I might earn some respect.

Let’s move onto the three categories of art. There is lookin’ art, thinkin’ art and feelin’ art. That’s it.

First of all, do you like the way it looks? It doesn’t have to be pretty to appeal to you. You may not like the look of art in galleries but if you are choosing art for your home you should like the way it looks. Under this guideline feel free to choose the art that matches your sofa and chairs. This is your home, your domain and you are king. Anybody can have an opinion on the way art looks. Remember, just because you like a picture doesn’t mean you want to see it everyday. An execution scene over your breakfast nook may encourage you to clean your plate but at what price? Put it in the washroom and admonish visitors to wash their hands.

Lookin’ art becomes more complicated once you start talking about line, composition, form, and balance. Those are some of the ingredients to lookin’ art. The more art educated a person is, the more they can endlessly expand and dissect these ingredients. Think of a chef endlessly singing the praises of Dijon mustard. If you aren’t very art educated, don’t worry about it too much. You don’t have to look under the hood to appreciate the look of a Ferrari.

The second type of art is feelin’ art. It draws out (pun intended) a reaction from the viewer. Imagine the churches of hundreds of years ago and the sculpture, stonework, tapestries and paintings that crammed those stone walls. A lot of those gargoyles were there just to scare the living daylights out of the peasants.

On the other hand, art can inspire, comfort, calm and stimulate. It can even disgust. A rotting meat dress could inspire the viewer to regurgitate their own contribution on the gallery floor. Unintended, but oddly natural feedback*.

Your reaction is personal. Public art and private art are two different animals. One is a beast that you may not want in your house and the other gives feeling to your personal space. In your house it’s your party, feel whatever you want. But don’t expect the feeling to be mutual.

Thinkin’ art can be a lot more complicated. An artist may create art with symbols, mathematical theory, theology, history and layers and layers of meaning. An art critic should be the translator and interpreter for the public because goodness knows; there is a lot of art theory out there. Thinkin’ art requires more current book learnin’ than most of us have. A good interpreter would be able to help us discover the value of thinkin’ art. Isn’t it frustrating when they obfuscate? It’s even worse when you don’t know the meaning of the word obfuscate.

Thinkin’ theory can be fun mental gymnastics… as long as you don’t stretch so far your mind snaps. Your mind will snap faster if you haven’t warmed it up. Be warned.

I’m thinkin’ that a masterpiece should span all three categories. There would be a lot of thinkin’, feelin’ and lookin’ going on in a masterpiece. It’s a great theory to put to the trucker test. What would a trucker do when looking at a potential masterpiece?

If this theory doesn’t work for you, wanna hear a moose story?


polysyllabic – big words, lots of sounds

*Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic by Jana Sterbak, shown at National Gallery in Ottawa, NOT moose meat... I hope

obfuscate – obscure, darken, as in keep you in the dark

BTW - my dad used to drive a truck for an art gallery

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fast Food Spam

My siblings and I begged my parents to buy Spam when we were young. We were seduced by the power of television. We were hungry. My parents made a deal with us that if they bought it, we would eat it.

Guess what happened?

This article brought it all back.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


"I'm not a vegetarian because I like animals, I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants"

That explains my houseplants.

Eating Your Plants

I adore sage. Sage is a plant that tolerates a lot of neglect and I can eat it too. My favourite recipe is sage pesto. Easy. You can pimp it up with pine nuts but sage stands well on its own. It's an intense flavour and a little goes a long way.

Sage Pesto

Bunch of sage leaves, about 10 - 15 big leaves
1- 3 cloves of garlic (Are you kissing anyone later? That will help you decide the amount)
1 cup/250 mL extra virgin olive oil
Two 1 oz/ 30 gr chunks of Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper

Wash sage leaves; toss in blender. Peel garlic; toss in blender. Cut two hunks of Parmesan; eat one. Toss the other chunk of Parmesan in the blender. Put 1/2 cup of olive oil in the blender and turn it on. Drizzle more olive oil into the blender to make a paste. It will be slightly chunky looking. Add more olive oil (if needed) to make the consistency you want. Taste. Add salt, pepper or more Parmesan to adjust seasonings. You can always tone down the intensity with more olive oil.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.

This pesto does not freeze well. I know, I tried. My family thought it was a mystery sauce out of the freezer.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

My husband and I have this ongoing battle about the definition of workplace. It’s very clear for him. He’s off in the morning and every two weeks he has a paycheck deposited for productive behaviour.

On the other hand, my situation is a little more complex because I work at home, from home and casually outside the home. So which one is the workplace?

I’m working my way to the harassment part… Outside the home it’s very easy; when I’m paid it’s keep your hands to yourself. Inside the home it’s a little different. My opinion is the house is my workplace and managing it is my job description. Don’t get hot under the collar – we agreed that I would be the primary child bearer – minder – domestic captain of this ship.

Sooo, when my very affectionate husband wraps his arms around me as I’m preparing food … with a very sharp knife… is that sexual harassment? Let’s see. I can’t do my work. That’s interference. He’s not paying me. I love him. That’s commitment. In hubby’s opinion… no paycheck, no harassment.

This set me back on my heels. Until....

Ahhaaa, you pay me to run the business! Sexual harassment! I win! I win!

Yes, but cooking is a labour of love not money and I am just expressing my love. I never interfere when it’s business.


Thursday, June 7, 2007


This recipe bumps up the flavour of the seafood by cooking the mussels with the partially cooked pasta. You'll want to lick the plate when you're done. There's no fancy name but if you think of one, let me know.

Spaghetti and Mussels

4 lb (2 kg) ripe tomatoes, diced
½ teaspoon coarse or sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs (1 kg) mussels
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb (500g) spaghetti

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Warm the garlic in the olive oil in a large pot until it is fragrant. Add diced tomatoes and ½ teaspoon coarse salt. Cook on low heat, uncovered, for about an hour. Stir occasionally. If you trust your pan and stove top - this is your time to kick back. A little more time, a little less time won't matter. Just check the consistency and the taste.

After an hour….clean your mussels...
Don’t soak the mussels in water! You want the wonderful briny seafood taste to seep into your dish, not the sink. Scrub mussels and pull off the beards. Once you've pulled off the beard of the mussel you have killed it - so don't murder them until the last minute. Swish them around in fresh water and discard the dirty sandy water. Swishing helps rinse off the grit. Once you have done this a few times the water should be clear.

Discard any mussels with broken shells or that do not close when they are handled or tapped sharply. Now, they are ready to be put into your simmering sauce along with the undercooked spaghetti.

Under cook the spaghetti in salted water by about 5 minutes less than the package directions. It should be hard in the middle. Add the half cooked spaghetti to the simmering sauce, stir, and then add the cleaned mussels. The spaghetti must sit in the sauce to cook whereas the mussels can be steamed by sitting on top. Cover the pot and cook just until the shells open, about 3-6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Toss fresh basil into pot and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with fresh parmesan or a salty pecorino, yum.

Serves 6-8 depending on your appetite and generosity in providing other food.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Can I eat it?

This food obsession is driving my life. I've gone from cooking with a Cordon Bleu chef to massaging a guinea hen corpse with olive oil and salt in Florence. I'm the only one I know who greeted the invasion of the Zebra mussels with the question, "Can we eat them?"

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sharp Knives

My father is a sharp knife addict. Whenever he was bored he would pull out his knives and give them a few swipes with his sharpening stone. Even today, he always travels with his sharpening stone. We never appreciated his pleasure in having a well honed knife. Whenever our dates brought us home late, he would come to the door, slowly swishing his knives back and forth. We did understand the pleasure he took in scaring the living daylights out of our dates. Twisted family that we are.

As my dad says, "when your gonna' skin a moose, you gotta' have a sharp knife."