Koosa – Stuffed Summer Squash


Like the stuffed grape vine leaves, the stuffed squash, Koosa, is another Lebanese favourite. My mother’s first vegetable garden this year on Saltspring Island was almost wholly devoted to growing this unique vegetable. The recipe can be done with regular-sized squash or zucchini, although this family recipe has always traditionally been done with small, pale green or summer squash.

Ingredients:

15 small squash (or other squash), hollowed
1 Lb. lean ground lamb or beef
1 cup rice
1 can of tomato juice (4-5 cups)
Juice from 2 lemons
1-2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper, cinnamon and allspice Continue reading


Chicken Piccata with Capers

This afternoon I went for a long walk around the lake and by kilometre six I was so ravenous with hunger that all I could think about was Italian chicken piccata and a cold Perrier. Despite how the name sounds to those that speak the Romance Languages, this dish isn’t spicy or piquant at all – piccata actually refers to the way the meat is prepared: sauteed and served in a sauce of butter, lemon, spices and parsley. This dish can be made with chicken or veal, though my preference is the former; and it uses four of my favourite ingredients in the pan sauce that accompanies it: freshly-squeezed lemon juice, cilantro, wine and capers. When all four are used together in one recipe, the aroma makes me delirious and misty-eyed. It is really that good, I swear. The other great thing about this dish is the heavy whacking involved in the preparation of the meat, to flatten it out before dredging it in batter. A perfect way to blow off steam, pounding the cutlets can be done with either a meat tenderizer, rolling pin or heavy Ayn Rand novel. Continue reading


Blackened Halibut with Mango Salsa

I just returned home from a week-long trip to Quebec for the holidays where I had the opportunity to sample some fantastic French Canadian cuisine during reveillon (essentially an all-night celebration and buffet of artery-clogging treats), including tourtiere, maple fudge and home made doughnuts drizzled in a type of maple taffy. Coming back home 5 pounds heavier, I resolved to detox for at least a week on fruits, veggies and lots of fish.

While waiting for a seaplane back to Vancouver Island yesterday, I stood drooling at a Cajun halibut dish from a restaurant menu nearby, as I had skipped lunch on board the Air Canada flight from Montreal; and several hours later I found myself picking out the best looking halibut fillet from the seafood counter at the local grocer with this meal in mind.  It is visually appealing in its colour and packs a mouthful of sinus-clearing kick from the Cajun-style spices. Continue reading


Lebanese Chicken and Hashweh (beef and rice)

In the event that you ever need to determine whether or not a person is of Lebanese descent, say if you’re a diplomat, international spy or want to learn a new party trick, there is a litmus test that almost never lies. A Lebanese nose is usually distinctly-shaped; but if that fails, look them in the eye and ask the individual in question about the Seven Spices. No, this isn’t middle eastern code. It refers to a combination of spices that are found, or should be found, in every Lebanese kitchen. It is made up of equal parts black pepper, cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, fenugreek and powdered ginger. One can find these pre-mixed at middle eastern grocers or, if you’re in a hurry and short on ingredients, try the Three Spice version: allspice, pepper and cinnamon, which tastes nearly as good. These spices are an integral part of the recipe below, which has been in my grandmother’s repertoire for 92 years (except for the Uncle Ben rice part, of course). Continue reading


The Best Low Fat Banana Bread You Will Ever Have

Mmmm. Best eaten warm.

The best banana bread ever? And low fat, to boot?

Yes, I know that is a tall claim. But I swear by this recipe. The only problem with it is my inability to stop myself from single-handedly eating both loaves within 24 hours (I fail every time). Interestingly, I actually hate bananas. I don’t like eating them on their own, but I am able to stand them if I add minimal amounts of it to bread. Therefore, my banana bread is light on the banana, but heavy on the bread. I always add a package of chopped walnuts, but whatever works best for you. I prefer to bake them in mini loafpans, because there is some forced portion control (not that it does any good in my case). But smaller is also just cuter. In any case, regardless of load size, enjoy! Continue reading


Salmon Wellington with Dijon Cream

We eat a lot of salmon in our household – we’ve never been big red meat eaters and living on the West Coast of British Columbia provides ample access to fresh fish. This being said, we’ve started running out of creative ways to prepare salmon, bringing us to the brink of giving up on seafood out of boredom, for chicken which can be prepared in a variety of ways. This is pure culinary laziness on my part – as you’ll see from this easy recipe below which serves up salmon in a refreshingly different, restaurant-calibre way. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Final Notes

We decided to get out of the village today, at least for a while. We borrowed two bikes and pedaled clumsily down the highway to a nearby town. It was probably twice the size of our home-stay village and presented a striking demonstration of life’s relativity. The shops lining the main street dazzled and impressed us, even if they only sold bike tires or shampoo. It was like seeing the neon glare of a Las Vegas strip after weeks in the desert. We cycled along the Mekong river (which winds its way snakily down from China, an Asian Mississippi) and saw on the other side, a mere swimming distance, the jungled mountains of Laos.

Later we tried to get some work done, but I was feeling lousy and tired from the interrupted sleep the night before. We contented ourselves by crocheting (Sonia) and reading (me), awaiting the time when the kids would return from school and molest us on our quiet porch. They did come soon after, and accidentally erased one of Sonia’s documents on the computer, for which she berated them. We shooed them away like animals, but like animals smelling the lure of food – in this case, computer pinball – they soon approached again. We kept the computer out of reach and played an educational game of hangman instead. I also showed them how to draw Scooby Doo to keep them distracted. Continue reading


Indian Butter Chicken

My friend Nathalie loves Indian food, so I decided to have her over for a pre-Christmas meal tonight; although we skipped the traditional North American ham or turkey for this fantastic Indian Butter Chicken dish. We’ve had Indian food now twice together since I’ve known her – which means that after tonight we’ve officially fallen into a pattern, albeit a tasty one. I’ve also had Indian food in the back of my mind this past week as I’ve been thinking often of an old friend, Kirti, who I haven’t seen in a few years. Kirti, an old classmate from graduate school, has just returned to India for the holidays for an arranged marriage; and although we haven’t stayed in touch since leaving academia, I’ve been picturing the wedding celebrations with a smidgeon of envy and wished I were there. Two of my Canadian friends, also MBA alum, are there now to witness and take part in the festivities.

Butter Chicken is a delicious meal that is surprisingly not difficult to make, considering the relatively large amount of ingredients and steps. There is a lot of prep time in the beginning, mostly just marinating the chicken in spices and then again in yogurt and additional spices. Different butter chicken recipes will call for a range of marinating times – times can also vary depending on how rushed you are. Keep in mind though that the longer the chicken soaks in the flavours from the garam masala and creamy yogurt the more tender it will be later on. The name of this dish actually comes from the “buttery tenderness” of the chicken and not from an abundance of butter as an ingredient – as you’ll see, there really isn’t that much butter here. Also, if you haven’t cooked with garam masala before you’re in for a treat. It’s literal translation is “hot mixture” and is a pungent, mouth watering blend of aromatic spices that is quite common in Indian and other South Asian cuisine. Bon appetit! Continue reading


Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies

I don’t remember ever eating ginger molasses cookies growing up, though I do recall there always being a full, sticky carton of molasses in the cupboard. My brother and I used to dip a finger in to taste and then make a face, never learning apparently. It wasn’t until I first tried this cookie, years later at the local Starbucks, that I became a ginger junkie and a lover of molasses. Also, of late, whenever I go back to Quebec for a visit I get spoiled by family to the traditional French Canadian meal galettes de sarasin, or Buckwheat pancakes, which are rolled in pork and lard and dipped in nearly half a container of molasses it seems – these are to die for! Molasses redeemed!

I work with a great group of cooks and bakers on my office floor who are forever fattening the rest of us up with delicious treats – particularly around the holidays when different sugary platters beckon me every time I walk by the kitchen. Today someone brought in the chewiest homemade ginger molasses cookies I’ve ever sampled, so I immediately swiped a couple more and tried to greedily conserve my small stash throughout the day. Thanks Gaylynn. Bon Appetit! Continue reading


Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Prunes and Almonds

If I were asked what my favourite meal of all time is, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to tell you that it is chicken tagine. The taste alone is sublime and the exotic aroma from the spices lingers in my house for days after cooking and brings me back, each time that I walk in the door, to the labyrinthine medieval alleys and stalls of Marrakech souks. To further reminisce during the meal, I’ll usually bake some home-made pita bread and put out small, decorated tagine dishes of olives or apricots as well.

During my travels in Morocco, whether eating under a starry sky with the Bedouins in the Sahara, or crisping on a sunny rooftop patio restaurant, or basking in the unrivalled sensual delirium of the Marrakech Night Market, I dined on lamb or chicken tagine at least once daily – sometimes more. There is no other comparison to this meal. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Part 3

Woke up before the sunrise for another early departure to Phu Wua Park with Mr.Oot’s class. Our host mother Yort packed us up a bag of sticky rice and cooked fish for lunch, which wouldn’t be eaten until after several hours of hiking in the sticky heat. Back home I get paranoid when cooked food is left on the counter for more than 20 minutes, so I sensed this would end up being a beef jerky and Power Bar day.

Fish for lunch...so good even the flies like it

After some campfire-like singing, in Thai, that energized the group and lasted long enough to dull my senses, we started on our uphill climb through still-wet foliage and over damp logs. The slippery rock faces threatened to plummet us to our doom, but we still managed to hang on until the top, where we met a superb view of the surrounding jungles leading down in the valley between the Laos mountains and Mekong river on one side, and on the other to Phu Tok and deep into Elephant country. I imagined a primitive scene, not too far away, where Tarzan swung from thick lliana vines over roaring elephants and cheetahs pawing madly at the air. I know I had the wrong continent, but the reality before me was probably not too far off.

Elephant territory

Oot led us afterwards off the beaten track, along winding streams surrounded by phallic-looking carnivorous plants which made me giggle. We joined up with the rest of the group, already wet and submersed in a nearby river which looked cool and refreshing. We were quickly thronged by gaggles of kids brandishing their teachers’ cameras. Using broken English, one teacher explained that these kids had never before taken a picture with white people. Soon after, we had them lined up in a queue, waiting their turn to put an arm around us and give the peace sign to a ready lens. We felt like Mickey and Minnie at a theme park, and gave some serious thought to charging a fee. We traipsed back together, all 70 or so of us in single file, through the jungle like African refugees. Continue reading


Mango Blackberry Brulee

I invited some friends over for a Moroccan tagine dinner tonight and was warned that one of them couldn’t eat gluten. There were a few desserts I wanted to make that stayed with the Moroccan theme, but was challenged to find one that I liked without that pesky gluten. In the end I settled on something completely different – a creme brulee variation. I’ve been eyeing up some ramekins (smallish oven-proof cups) to add to my kitchen collection and thought that a brulee would be a good excuse for the purchase and a nice way to break them in. It would also allow me to use the closest thing to a power tool in the kitchen: a brulee torch. Yes, I have home insurance. Continue reading


Easy Tabouli Salad

Tabouli was one of the first salads I ever ate when I was young. My grandmother, or Sito in Lebanese, always had a heaping bowl of it ready-in-waiting whenever we dropped by, like her tin of Peek Frean cookies that never seemed to deplete in stock. At every holiday dinner or event at the house of a relative, tabouli was also featured on the menu. To a child, the salad represented a colourful and visually appealing ensemble of greens and reds; as an adult, it is a healthy and tasty alternative to other side dishes.

Every weekend I now make a bowl-ful of tabouli that lasts me for several lunches and dinners during the week; and although it’s probably getting old and tiresome, I typically bring tabouli to every potluck I’m invited to. It’s different that the usual potato salad or nanaimo bars that I used to bring, and is just so easy to make – 15 minutes…and voila!

Note that there are many different ways to make this salad – each time is usually different for me depending on what I have in the fridge. Continue reading


French Toast with Pecans and Creamy Orange Syrup

French toast with orange and pecans

This is a variation of the traditional french toast breakfast that most of us have grown up with: maple syrup-soaked, golden french toast. I’ve replaced the maple syrup with a fairly thick sauce made from butter, cream cheese, a reduction of freshly-squeezed orange juice and confectioner’s sugar. Admittedly the sauce looks like mustard and doesn’t appear appetizing, but I guarantee you may not go back to eating french toast the old way once you’ve had a bite of this. The sweet citrus flavours of both the egg/milk mixture and the sauce is a pleasant surprise and also results in less soggy toast than if using syrup (which is part of the fun, though, I know).

I’ve been on an orange kick lately, mostly because they and their sweet cousin, the clementine, have been on sale over the past month. I picked up a box this morning from the grocery store that will probably last me 3 days at the rate I’ve been eating them. I also purchased a small hand juicer a few months ago that I’ve recently started using to squeeze my own orange juice as well, which has been a treat. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Part 2

Arriving back in the village after a few days of rest and relaxation in Nong Khai, a slightly larger town 2 hours away by jalopy, was refreshing. Nong Khai, which seemed fairly small a few weeks ago, is now Vancouver-big in comparison to Kham Pia village. There the outdoor markets, the fruit stands piled neck-high with rambutans and jackfruit, and the local 7-11 with its heavenly air conditioning and slurpees was reminiscent of the hustle and bustle of Robson Street, downtown Vancouver.

A pile of jackfruit....bet you can't eat just one!

We had left the village for 2 days to seek some of the minor luxuries that Nong Khai, being slightly larger, could offer, such as a shower and flushing toilets. It is eye-opening and a tad shameful to know that the majority of Earth’s 6.5 billion don’t have access to the kind of bathroom comfort, let alone running water, that Westerners enjoy.

A whole new meaning of the word "squatters"

Coming back to the village and its endless fields of rice paddies, familiar faces made me smile, as did the farm sounds we had grown accustomed to. When we pulled in, riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck, I felt like we were part of a Royal procession. Children running behind the truck heralded our arrival with pointed fingers, shouting “fereng, fereng” – foreigner.

"Take me home, country road"

We had barely been back for a few hours and already there was trouble! A 15 year old boy had sniffed some gasoline from Mr. Bunleod’s grass mower and then had stumbled, intoxicated, into our house. Our homestay dad found him going through our room and then scolded him and searched him thoroughly for stolen goods, such as my month’s worth emergency supply of beef jerky I brought from back home. All of this was later explained by gestures over dinner and we laughed at the humour in it. Also that day, a baby had stolen a motorcycle and drove it through town, or so we understood. Continue reading


Christmas Snowy-Lava Cookies

Christmas with lava? This might seem a bit unconventional for most, but I have spent a good many years of my childhood Christmases in Hawaii. These wonderful lava cookies are soft and moist, like a great brownie. They are super simple and fast to make, but their appearance is unique and festive and make a great party-host present (which is what I made them for in this particular case).

This is going to be your best friend for this recipe. Don't be afraid to use it liberally.

You will need:

  • 1 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • a helluva lot of icing sugar, for rolling:) Continue reading

Brown Sugar Mustard Glazed Salmon

Ingredients:

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and Pepper

4 x 7 ounce salmon fillets

2 tsp olive oil

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2. In a small bowl, whisk brown sugar, mustard, lemon juice and 1/2 tsp pepper

3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Rub salmon with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the salmon, skin side up, in the skillet until a crisp brown crust forms, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, flip the salmon and coat with the brown sugar mixture.

4. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the glaze caramelizes and the fish is cooked through – about 5 minutes.

In the photo above, I served the fillet on a bed of sauteed kale and apples.


Saltspring Island Christmas Party and Feast

Yes, I know there is at least a week and a half to go until Christmas, but that has never stopped my mom from rummaging through her decorations each October and bedecking her Saltspring Island home with Christmas cheer while the rest of the world is still thinking about pumpkins and vampires. She starts exuding Christmas even earlier than Wal-Mart, which is saying something.

I have to acknowledge though that she always has the best decorated home at Christmas time; it is as flashy as Vegas, though tasteful and without an Eiffel Tower. She has a dozen or so Christmas trees around the house, each themed and with a purpose. The “sheep” tree is adorned with hundreds of miniature stuffed sheep and rolled balls of wool that she sheared from two of the family sheep “Curly and Whirly”. Another tree consists only of tear drop-shaped ornaments, while a third has so many decorations made from cinnamon sticks that one can’t walk within 5 feet of it without craving cider.

Christmas scene

In addition to her trees and many lights, my mom is also known for her lavish Christmas parties, where the food spread and wine supply is endless. This year was no exception: last weekend she hired two local high school students to play the guitar and fiddle for entertainment and she hired Bruce from Saltspring’s renowned Bruce’s Kitchen for catering. I was brought in from Victoria for cheap labour: serving, pouring refills of wine and the part I was looking forward to most, getting to watch Bruce at work and plate 18 dishes of each course for him.

At your service

The menu Bruce had created was outstanding and true to the slogan of his restaurant “Farm to Table” he tried to source as many ingredients locally from Saltspring or Vancouver Island as he could considering the season. I couldn’t get the recipes from him, as many of the dishes were surely secrets he had carried with him since his early days of cooking. But I did ask a lot of questions, as I was genuinely intrigued, so will attempt to pass on what I gleaned.

Appetizers:

  • Moonstruck Bleu cheese and mostarda turnover
  • Crostini with roast autumn vegetables and marinated olives
  • White bean hummus on english cucumber

Main Course:

  • Bruce’s Kitchen gravlax, smoked ropey tuna and prawns with chili lime and cilantro served with aioli and potato blini
  • Herb roasted Quist farm beef tenderloin and braised short ribs
  • Risotto of fall vegetables, kale and Moonstruck White Grace cheese

Dessert:

  • Dark chocolate buche de noel
  • Oatmeal crepes with caramelised apples
  • Blackberry sorbet

Many of these items I had never heard of before; gravlax for starters. It sounded more akin to a laxative than a salmon dish. Somewhat similar in taste to smoked salmon, I found, gravlax is actually salmon fillets cold cured using salt, sugar, dill and alcohol. Although not time consuming to make, Bruce told me, the gravlax curing process takes roughly 3 days in all, after which time the fillet is thinly sliced and served, usually on bread or in this case accompanying lime and cilantro prawns and tuna flank on blinis. For a gravlax recipe that looks similar, follow this link.

"Order up!"

 

Gravlax arranged on potato blini with herb aioli dressing

Accompanying the gravlax on this dish were prawns that had been soaking overnight in a beautiful chili-lime marinade and tuna flanks with fennel seed that at first glance appeared to be sitting in a tub of olive oil. Bruce explained the technique for preparing the tuna. Normally one would sear tuna briefly on all sides for under a minute. In this case, however, he used hot olive oil poured onto the fish to cook it. He heated a jar of olive oil that he had previously used for preserving lemons over several months and that were now infused with a mellow citrus flavour. Pouring this over the fish not only partially cooked the fish, but transferred the lemon taste to the tuna. He then rubbed each piece of fish with local sea salts and fennel seed for a subtle hint of anise.

Tuna flank cooked in citrus olive oil and fennel seed

His appetizers were equally delicious. The turnover was made using puff pastry filled with mostarda, which is an Italian style chutney using a combination of fruits (in this case, some local island figs and apples) preserved in a sweet honey syrup with a bit of extra kick on loan from mustard seed, powder and oil. The entire thing was baked with crumbs of Moonstruck Bleu cheese (local Saltspring Island cheese) and then sliced into sections and served alongside the white bean hummus on cucumber. People were cautious not to fill up on the appetizers alone, as tempting as it was. For a basic mostarda recipe, try this link.

Mostarda turnover with Moonstruck Bleu cheese, ready for the oven

White bean hummus on english cucumbers

The coup de grace of the evening and main course consisted of local farm-raised beef tenderloin and braised short rips rubbed in cocoa and espresso (if I remember correctly) served on mouth-watering risotto of local fall vegetables and kale. I saw several people plead for seconds – the high school musicians even skipped dessert and had a third helping of this dish.

Beef tenderloin and braised short ribs served on risotto of fall veggies and kale

For dessert, guests managed to find room for a slice of dark chocolate yule log or buche de noel (complete with meringue mushrooms), accompanied by oatmeal crepes filled with apples and then folded into quarters, sliced and topped with a scoopful of Bruce’s own blackberry sorbet. For a wild berry sorbet recipe, try this link. I was fortunate enough to bring a doggy bag of leftovers home with me that lasted for several lunches and made work colleagues envious.

Dark chocolate buche de noel, oatmeal crepes and blackberry sorbet - what a treat!

Thanks Bruce and hosts for a fantastic meal and enjoyable company!

Mike

Tierney and Brian, too stuffed to move


Chicken Chipotle Soup

Whether its from the temperature getting colder and the air damper, or the stress of Christmas approaching, over the past 3 days I’ve been fighting off some bug. Today in particular has been the kind of day where I would have liked nothing more than to vegetate on the couch watching re-runs of Chuck and eating soup. Normally when I’m sick I gravitate to the traditional Chicken Noodle Soup, but today I felt like a variation that included a bit more kick to it – Chipotle peppers. I had a few of these peppers ziplocked in the freezer from the last time I made this recipe a few months ago. Normally they come 8-10 in a can and as each recipe usually only calls for 2 at a time, this is a good way to store them until needed.  This soup delivers a nice balance of heartiness (from the corn, chicken and zucchini), zip/kick (chipotle-style) and tartness from the limes making it the perfect fall or winter meal, or when in need of a pick-me-up. Continue reading


Thai Green Curry with Chicken

This green curry dish is the most popular Thai meal after Phad Thai – but watch out, it’s spicy!

I first learned to make it at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School during my stay in Thailand, where it became my inaugural meal using coconut milk. Before this I had never really given it a chance. My earliest memory of a coconut (cue the flashback harp music) is from a trip to Florida when I was really young, where my dad broke open a coconut that had washed up on the beach and handed my brother and I pieces to examine and nibble on. I remember the clear liquid on the inside tasting foul and then subsequently I was turned off everything ‘coconut’ for a few decades, however undeserved.

I’ve since learned that coconut milk isn’t actually the liquid inside of a coconut, as I had been led to believe; and many years after my Florida trip I realized that the liquid deserved another chance. After all, I had the same initial reaction to coffee and alcohol and look where I am now. During our stay in a rural Thai village, on a particularly sweltering day, our host father poked holes in a coconut he picked from his yard and handed us straws for drinking. Parched from the heat, I found this makeshift umbrella drink refreshing and vowed thereafter to conquer all of my other childhood food aversions.

Actual coconut milk, if ever the question is asked on Jeopardy, is made by squeezing the grated flesh of a coconut with a bit of hot water. The resulting rich, creamy liquid looks much like cow’s milk…and it is a vital ingredient in the making of most curry dishes, including this one. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Part 1

Since arriving in Kham Pia, a small village of 400 farmers and rice growers in Northeast Thailand, time has slowed to a trickle. Things are different than in the rest of Thailand; and I think the villagers like it this way. For the ones that don’t — the occasional number of restless young — they shed themselves of it like a skin that is too tight.

People and animals share the same living space here. This is not just limited to dogs and cats (our homestay dog shared my living space one day and ate my towel), but to livestock such as chickens, cows and numerous birds too. There are other animals also, such as lizards, which collect in corners like dust collects back home. As I type, there are at least nine geckoes on one wall, of various sizes and dispositions. One larger lizard, at least a foot long, scampers back and forth underneath a sofa. And the bugs! They are everywhere! In the morning, they cover our floors like dew. The termites are especially messy: they seem to emerge all at once, in cycles depending on the weather, and shed their wings in order to begin a new life of crawling and scampering. Their discarded wings blanket the floors like leaves in the fall.

None of these things are that surprising, though, as Thai houses are built differently than Western homes. Our homes back home are meant to seal off Nature and the rest of the world, creating a seam between the wilderness and civilization. Here, homes are built with walls missing. Where our front door would be, their entire wall opens to the street, like a child’s dollhouse that is sliced crosswise, opening on hinges. Continue reading


Thai Chicken Salad – Laap Gai

Our favourite Isan (North East Thailand) meal, which we have occasionally made since returning home from our travels there, is minced chicken salad, or Laap Gai. Like other typical Isan cuisine, it is spicy and rich in flavour. Traditionally it is made with ground, roasted sticky rice in it, though I usually skip this step for simplicity without noticing the difference. I enjoy eating this dish, as the Thai people do, with handfuls of sticky rice, or wrapped in lettuce leaves like a wrap.

Follow this link to read about my experiences in Thailand

 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups chicken breast or turkey breast, minced or ground. Ground chicken is usually available at grocery stores.

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 tbsp fish sauce – yes, it smells vile, but it’s an integral ingredient in Thai dishes

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp chilli powder

2 tbsp finely chopped red onion (optional)

1 tbsp cilantro, chopped (optional)

1 green onion, chopped

1 tbsp mint leaves, chopped

 

Method:

1. Place the ground chicken, shallots, red onion, fish sauce, lime juice and chilli powder into a medium bowl and mix together.

2. Heat a wok and on medium heat and cook the chicken mixture for about 6 minutes until the chicken is cooked. During the last minute, add the mint, cilantro and green onion.

3. Serve with sticky or glutinous rice or in lettuce leaves, similar to lettuce wraps.


Wild Berry Sorbet

Blackberry sorbet...or what's left of it

Ingredients:
**ice cream maker required
8 cups fresh washed or frozen berries  – this recipe used blackberries
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)

Directions:

Blend the berries, water and lemon juice until the mixture is smooth. Add the berry mixture to a large saucepan and stir in the sugar – mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately remove it from the heat. Give the mixture a chance to cool at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes, and then press it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any small seeds, especially if you’re using blackberries. Discard the berry solids (i.e. seeds) and mix the puree with the vodka (optional). Allow the mixture to cool and then freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the directions for the particular machine you’re using.


Mexican Dark Chocolate Espresso Truffles – Ole!


Sometimes I wish I drank more often.

No, really. I feel like if I did, I would have this wonderful pantry full of liqueur to use in my baking recipes.

This recipe calls for (an irritatingly small amount of) Kahlua, and it just didn’t seem worthwhile for me to buy some to only use 1 tablespoon of it. Why are these truffles Mexican? Not because they are spicy, but because I made them in honour of a Mexican friend of mine. They are a perfect sweet treat to have with an after-dinner cup of tea or coffee ( or, if you are so lucky, Kahlua?). Enjoy!

You will need:

12 ounces (or, 1.5 cups) of bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1.5 tablespoons instant espresso powder

3/4 cup whipping cream

(optional: 1 tablespoon Kahlua)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Continue reading


Easy to Make Chicken Satay

There are a lot of great peanut-satay products that one can buy, normally found somewhere in the asian food section of the grocery store. But I find it just as easy to make my own with an ingredient that is found in almost every cupboard – peanut butter.

 

Ingredients:

1 pound skinless boneless chicken, either cubed or sliced into 1 inch x 3 inch pieces

1/3 cup peanut butter, store bought or home-made

1/4 cup boiling water

1 tbsp grated ginger

1/2 tsp curry powder or paste

1 tbsp lemon juice

Red Chilli flakes, depending on taste (or 1 finely chopped chilli pepper if you are brave)

1 tbsp plain white yogourt or milk

1/2 tsp salt

 

Directions:

1. Cut chicken into pieces, as above. Mix remaining ingredients in medium bowl – the hot water will melt the peanut  butter into a creamy liquid consistency.

2.  Set oven to broil.

3. Immerse the chicken into the peanut butter mixture to cover each piece well and then line the coated chicken in an oiled pan or cookie sheet. Reserve 1/4 cup of the mixture for a second coating later on.

4. Broil the chicken for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and brush chicken with remaining mixture, then cook for another 5 minutes. Serve on a bed of jasmine or basmati rice. Sprinkle with chilli flakes if desired.


How to Make Perfect Muffins

For the longest time none of the muffins I made ever looked like the ones sold by a baker or handed to me by the local barista at Starbucks. Mine were the Ugly Betty of baked goods. Growing up, as well, I didn’t live in a house of positive muffin role models; we used to buy the Quaker muffin mix where all that was needed was water, like sea monkeys, and voila….a runt, mini-me version of a muffin would emerge.

I’ve since come across a muffin recipe in the March 2006 issue of Fine Cooking that makes bountifully large, delicious muffins every time. I’ve included it below with a few minor  tweaks of my own. Continue reading


Thai Style Fish Cakes and Sauce

I worked and travelled in Thailand for one summer and ended up staying in Chiang Mai for 3 days in the desperate search to see an elephant. The 3 days then turned into 2 weeks, as I lost track of time. I never did get to meet an elephant in that particular city except for one sad, wizened elephant who accompanied its master through a seedy district of town as a novelty for tourists.  Although my exposure to these ancient pachyderms was a letdown, the rest of the city had plenty to offer.

I could spend countless posts praising or describing this incredible country, but will instead just focus on the couple of days when I signed up for Thai cooking classes at the renowned Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, run by Thailand’s answer to Emeril: Chef Sompon. Classes would typically begin after lunch and last until dinner time and would include the preparation of 5 or 6 traditional dishes. Even though meals were spaced out, I would still skip breakfast each day just to make room for the feast that would follow. The Thai fish cakes were one of the meals made on the second day of my class and it was probably one of the only seafood dishes I recall eating during my stay. I know you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. Continue reading


How to Make Pizza

One of my favourite things to cook when friends drop in for dinner is homemade pizza. Guests normally find it pretty entertaining to watch as I make the dough and then they each get to roll up their sleeves and earn some participation points while they add toppings to their own personal pizzas. Kids will enjoy this part as well. The fastest way is to pick up the already prepared pizza dough at the grocery store and merely add the sauce and toppings, but for what little additional work is required to make your own dough, I think it’s worth making it yourself and getting flour on your clothes – part of the fun! Continue reading


Yam and Peanut Butter Soup

Some people at work have taken to calling me Fido; not in a derogatory way (I think), but because I’m known on my floor as the guy who sniffs everyone’s food. People were disgusted at first, when in the lunch room I would hover my nose over their leftover curry dish or lasagna and inhale. They would push their plates away and say “I can’t eat this now!” But it’s not as invasive as sticking my finger in the dish at least. Most people, I’ve learned, don’t often appreciate their food with all their senses – or at least the smell and look, unless they’re listening to a bowl of Rice Krispies snap-crackle-popping. Taste is important, sure, but so is taking the time to savour the aroma of a meal before placing it on the tongue and sending it down the gullet. We do it with wine, so why not food? Anyways, I shouldn’t be telling you this – If you’re reading this it means you’re already a food convert.

Where I’m going with this is that one lunch hour a colleague removed from the microwave the most incredible smelling soup. I sat staring at her, leaning in with my nose and waiting for her to offer me a bite. Normally I don’t do this to people – my mother raised me better than that. But I was curious and perplexed by what was undoubtedly peanut butter in her soup and needed to know what the outcome of it was. I have a thing with peanut butter – I eat it on everything, but never before in soup. Needless to say, she shared a bite of the soup and the recipe below. Continue reading


Cinnamon Apple Bundt Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups peeled apple, shredded

1/2 cup raisins

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

3 tbsp confectioner’s sugar Continue reading


How to Make Bread

Ingredients:

6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tbsp sugar

2 envelopes Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast

2 tsp salt

1 – 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup milk

2 tbsp butter

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Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves

 

A wonderful childhood memory of my grandmother – Sito, as she is known in Lebanese – is of her bringing my brother and I behind the neighbourhood swimming pool to pick grapevine leaves to make Yabrek, stuffed grapevine leaves. Although the ultimate payoff was the mouth-watering fingers of lamb meat we would feast on later that evening, also tantalizing to our young tastebuds was to nibble on the new vine shoots, shaped like curly-cues, which often had a sweet flavour to them.

I’ve searched the internet for years to find a recipe that was a close match to the Yabrek I remembered from my childhood. After many trials, my mother finally came across the secret ingredient – rhubarb – which, when added to the cooking pot, adds a distinct sweet flavour that is unmistakeable. Continue reading


Easy Cinnamon Shortbread Squares

This recipe is one that I’ve been hounding my mom to share with me for a while. She used to make this for my brother and I when we were much younger and the recipe she scanned and sent me had the food splatter marks to prove its age. I do love regular shortbread cookies, don’t get me wrong, but they are usually so light and fluffy that they dissolve on the tongue in seconds and are gone. These shortbread squares have more of a brownie consistency, but with the buttery goodness of shortbread. I made the mistake of making this batch with no one else home during a day of little willpower and ended up eating the equivalent of a 1/4 cup butter over the time it takes to watch an episode of Glee. They are highly addictive. Word of advice: eat one or two and then bring the rest of the batch to work. Continue reading


Roasted Bagel Chips

Instead of buying crackers or pita bread for dipping, try bagel chips for something different and tasty.

Ingredients:

2 or 3 bagels, any kind

3 tbsp of butter or olive 0il

1/4 tsp of salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

2. Place  bagels in fridge for 30 minutes. This step isn’t necessary, although I find it helps make the bagels easier to slice thinly.

3. Slice the bagels into 1/2 – 1.4 inch slices (4-5 slices per bagel, typically).

4. Lightly butter each side of the bagel slices or drizzle with olive oil, then coat both sides with salt, to taste.

5. Place bagel slices on ungreased baking sheet for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Flip part way through. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.


Smoked Salmon Dip

I’m not really a dip kind of guy, unless it’s hummus or spinach-artichoke. Not that I’m incredibly health conscious, but I’ve always been suspect of the calorie or fat count of store-bought dips. Even though this dip recipe includes cream cheese and mayo, the smoked salmon in it at least makes me feel a little less guilty pleasure when partaking. This tastes great on sliced cucumbers or with cut veggies.

Ingredients:

2 cups cream cheese (I use light cheese, in order to feel a little less guilty)

3 tbsp onion, minced

1/3 tbsp garlic powder

1/2 cup smoked salmon

1/4 cup mayonnaise (light)

2 tsp fresh dill, chopped

Directions

1. Whip cream cheese in a blender until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend well using a food processor or blender.

2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.


Hummous

 

Ingredients:

2 cups canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

1/3 cup or less to taste, tahini

1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh

1 tsp salt

2 cloves garlic

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp paprika

2 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

1. Add the tahini and the lemon juice to a small bowl and whisk until slightly foamy. This will help give the hummous a creamier consistency later on.

2 – 0ption 1: Add the tahini mixture with the garbanzo beans, half the olive oil, salt, cumin and garlic in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl.

2 – option 2: I’ve thrown in this brief extra step, as an option. I find that hummous will turn out creamier if you first boil the canned chickpeas for 2 minutes, to soften them. You can add the garlic to the boiling water during this step. Drain, then add the chickpeas and garlic to the food processor with the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Serve.

3. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the garbanzo bean mixture. Sprinkle with paprika.

4. Serve with pita bread or home-made bagel crisps


Beet Risotto

I’m not sure how, but shockingly I made it through 29 years of my life without ever tasting a beet. The day that I had one was a revelation to my taste buds. There is not a week that goes by now when my fridge is not full of these wonderful, healthy treats. There are so many delicious ways of cooking beets, though this combination of the dark red, flavourful beet with another of my favourite foods – risotto – is a unique and mouth-watering side dish. It also calls for cooking with white wine, which is always a great excuse to indulge a little in a glass while cooking. Continue reading


Crepes

Although very popular in France and Quebec, crepes and creperies (crepe houses) are only now starting to appear on the West Coast. I prefer to make my own, though, as they are inexpensive and very simple to make. They are also multi-purpose, serving as breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on what you fill them with. Although some people have been known to eat them with shrimp or fish, my preference is with fresh fruit, peanut butter, chocolate chips or whipped cream. Continue reading


How to Make Fresh Pasta by Hand

Cutting strips of pasta by hand - a little like zen sand art

Preparing fresh pasta by hand will likely be one of the more pleasurable cooking activities you’ll experience. Not only is this easy to make at home, but the fresh pasta will taste like it’s being served directly from a family kitchen in Italy. Molto Bene!

I’ve made pasta two different ways: by hand (more difficult and challenging to cut) and using a pasta machine (this is my preferred option, though you’ll need to pick up a machine – not to worry, Christmas is coming). If rolling and cutting by hand, the pasta will still taste great; it will usually just leave you with pasta strips that are thicker than you would get from a machine. Either way you make this though, this is much more impressive to dinner guests that emptying a store-bought package of pasta into a pot of boiling water.

Continue reading


Rice Pudding

When I found out that my step dad liked rice pudding, I believe I gave him a look of disbelief. This didn’t sound like something he would eat: he comes from an old-school British background and relies on typically bland food staples, like butter on toast or boiled vegetables – rice pudding seemed too far out of his comfort zone. Apparently though, rice pudding has a long-standing place on British dinner (or breakfast) plates from as far back as the Tudor period. In fact, a little Googling revealed that nearly every culture in the world has some variation of rice pudding in their diet. I had tasted the black rice porridge version in Thailand a few years ago, called Khao Niao Dam, without realizing what it was – and it was delicious. I’ve included this “worldly” rice pudding recipe for my step dad, who in my regard has now moved slightly up the foodie rungs.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup uncooked white rice

2 cups milk, divided, or cream

1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

2/3 cup raisins

1 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

1. In a medium saucepan bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. In another saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups cooked rice, 1 1/2 cups milk or cream, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until thick and creamy, 15-20 minutes.

3. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup milk, beaten egg and raisins. Cook 2 minutes more, stirring constantly.

4. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Serve warm.


Julie’s Fudge

Ingredients:

3 cups brown sugar

1 cup carnation milk

Approximately 1/8 cup butter

 

Directions:

1. Bring mixture to a boil. Everything must be melted together.

2. Bring to “Soft Ball” stage on candy thermometer

3. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp vanilla extract

4. Allow to cool slightly then beat until fudge thickens and it loses its gloss

 


Diane’s Bacardi Rum Cake

Cake:

1 cup chopped pecan or walnuts; 18 1/2 oz yellow cake mix

3 3/4 oz package Jello Vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix.

4 eggs

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup cooking oil

1/2 cup rum (amber)

 

Glaze:

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2  cup rum (amber)

 

Directions – Glaze:

1. Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

2. Remove from heat and stir in rum

 

Directions – Cake

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Grease or flour 10 inch Rectangular or Bundt pan.

3. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan.

4. Mix all cake ingredients together and pour batter over nuts.

5. Bake 1 hour then cool. Invert on serving plate. Prick top with fork or toothpick.

6. Drizzle and smooth glaze evenly over top and sides. Allow cake to absorb and repeat until glaze is used up.

 


Aunt Diane’s Tourtiere

Tourtiere, or meat pie in English, like its other Quebec counterpart Poutine, has been known to have be made in hundreds of ways, ranging from chicken tourtiere (which confounds me), to the traditional pork and veal that I am familiar with, to the countless other regional variations. Many French Canadian homes that I’ve been in have a tourtiere recipe, hand written on a yellow, stained index card that has been handed down for generations like a family heirloom. I can’t say for sure if it’s a French Canadian tradition, but like many other Quebeckers I was raised to eat every dinner that’s served in a pastry shell with large dollops of ketchup. Don’t knock it till you try it. This particular recipe was given to me by my mom from my Aunt Diane.

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Roasted Garlic

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Peel away a few of the outer layers of the garlic bulb, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Using a knife, cut off 1/4 inch off the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic.

3. Place the garlic heads in a baking pan; Drizzle a couple teaspoons of olive oil over each bulb, using your fingers to coat. Cover with aluminum foil.

4. Bake at 400°F for 35 minutes or until the cloves feel soft.

 

Eat as is or serve warm with Brie cheese or as a spread. Not recommended for a date night!

 


Shortbread Cookies

My step dad loves this recipe for shortbread cookies and I agree they’re both delicious and addictive (translation: fattening). If you enjoy this recipe, also take a look at my mom’s cinnamon shortbread square recipe.

 

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F

2. Mix butter and sugar in large bowl. Stir in flour. If dough is crumbly, mix in 1-2 tbsps of extra butter)

3. Roll dough 1/2 inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes by hand. Place 1/2 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake about 20 minutes or until set. Remove from sheet to let cool.


Praline Bars

Ingredients:

24  graham cracker squares

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chopped pecans

 

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350ºF.

2. Arrange graham crackers in single layer in ungreased jelly roll pan, 15 1/2×10 1/2×1 inch.

3. Heat brown sugar and butter to boiling in 2-quart saucepan. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

4. Pour sugar mixture over crackers; spread evenly. Sprinkle with pecans.

5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until bubbly; cool slightly. Cut between graham crackers into bars.

 


Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened

2 teaspoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Beat cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla in medium bowl with electric mixer on low speed until smooth.

2. Gradually beat in powdered sugar on low speed, 1 cup at a time, until smooth and spreadable.


Carrot Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups shredded carrots (roughly 5-6)

1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

 

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of rectangular pan. Lightly flour.

2. Mix sugar, oil and eggs in large bowl until blended; beat 1 minute.

3. Stir in remaining ingredients except carrots, nuts and frosting. Beat 1 minute by hand. Stir in carrots and nuts. Pour into pan.

4. Bake for 40-45 minutes for rectangular pan or 30-35 minutes for round pan, or until toothpick comes out clean inserted in centre. Cool on wire rack.

5. Frost with cream cheese frosting.

 

 


Simple Pie Crust Recipe

Two-crust pie

2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp shortening

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

4-5 tbsp cold water

 

Directions:

1. Cut shortening into flour and salt by crisscrossing 2 knives, until the pieces are pea-sized. Sprinkle with cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Use your fingers to combine until all flour is moistened.

2. Gather the pastry into a ball. Divide pastry in half and shape into 2 rounds.

3. Roll pastry into circle roughly 2 inches larger than an upside down pie plate, using a rolling pin. Place into pie plate and firmly press against bottom and sides.

4. Fill with your favourite fruit or filling and bake as directed.


Chicken Marbella

Daniel first introduced me to this recipe a few years ago and it’s been on my “Mike’s Favourite List” ever since. Watching him prepare this meal was the first time I had ever been privy to a slowly cooked meal (defined to me as: a meal that takes over an hour to prepare and doesn’t come out of a can). That being said, it is time-intensive only in the sense that the chicken needs to marinate overnight in a heavenly concoction that smells so good you’ll drool in your sleep and have nocturnal visions of a sun-kissed mediterranean beach.

Chicken Marbella calls for an unusual cast of characters, like capers, olives, half a head of garlic, plums and brown sugar, something that a child might dream up if given free reign in the kitchen. But what a combination! My friend Nathalie dropped off frozen chanterelle mushrooms a few weeks ago, so I made wild mushroom risotto as a side dish. If you have leftovers (unlikely), this meal tastes even better the next day.

Thanks Daniel!

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