Archive for the ‘cooking’Category

Apple Butter


Fair Warning: I was not impressed with this Roasted Apple Butter recipe; employ at your own risk. 

I love preserving.  Correction: I love the idea of preserving.  Concentrating fruits to their purest essences, brining carrots and peppers and beans in a sweet and spicy elixir, rows of sparkly jars on the sheves, sharing these jars with friends and family.  It also involves a lot of work, a lot of space, a lot of dirtied pots and pans and stovetops and cabinets, and a lot of produce to produce a very small yield.  I did not let this daunt me, however, and had my intentions set on plucking apples from trees in a rolling orchard and honouring them with a special treatment, not unlike last year’s attempts at Christine Ferber’s delicious recipe for apple compote.

Well, folks, the plans fell through.  We never made it to the apple orchard after all.  We got rained out and colds were running rampant among certain members of the crew so we put the road trip on hold indefinitely.  Instead, I had to get my apple fix at St. Lawrence Market and rely on the kindness of a friend to drive me home with ten pounds of apples.   My apple butter recipe calls for a mix of sweet apples to add complexity, so I elected McIntosh and Northern Spy.



I’m not a big apple snacker.  When I do indulge, I prefer hard, crisp, cold apples…preferably Granny Smith.  I wanted something a little more local, though, and McIntosh apples are deeply rooted in Canadian history dating back to about 1811 when they were discovered on the McIntosh homestead in Dundas, Ontario.   Known for its red and green skin, semi-tart flavour and tender white flesh, it’s been a popular staple in many students’ school lunches because of its smallish size and healthful properties.

Northern Spy apples also come into season a little later and have a similar colouring but are known for its firmer flesh and rich, sweet aromatic flavour.  I thought the two would complement each other in the apple butter…so on with the adventure. 


 This recipe came to me by way of a newish cookbook in my collection: Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.  The book has some marvelous ideas for making more of your unconventional food items like marshmallows, jerky, cheese, olives, ketchup, etc.  I found these recipes immensely appealing and was eager to try one.  Now I know that apple butter is not a stretch for the home preserver.  In fact, it’s one of the rather simple things to make; one doesn’t need to worry so much about the alchemy that causes fruit to gel and set.  This recipe, however, calls for roasting the peeled-and-quartered apples for a couple of hours and then pureeing them with the additional seasonings.  This was a nice alternative to the traditional stove-top stewing method and is meant to enhance the colour and flavours.  Easy peasy.


Well, it was sort of easy.  But it was also messy.  I nearly destroyed two of my best baking sheets in the process.  I lined them both with foil and gave them a spray of oil to prevent the apples from sticking.  After two hours in the oven, the apples joyfully carmelized and fused to every exposed surface of the pan.  Even the foil couldn’t be removed.  It was a nightmare.  So I scraped off as much of the mush as I could and processed it in the Cuisinart for a good long time.

Glory be: those ten pounds of apples produced a frugal 4.5 jars of sticky, cinnamony, beige spread.  The flavour was fine, but I doubt I’d ever make it again.  I had to use my power steamer to clean the baking sheets and the recipe has left me a tad nervous to try another recipe from the book.  But I’ve already used the apple butter in a vegan banana bread recipe, so good things have come from the experience.


10 2009



This fall, the Gentle Barber invited a motley crew up to his cottage on the shores of Lake Huron for a big bear weekend.  Never one to turn down an opportunity to escape the city, we hopped in the Sweet Babboo’s brand new Nissan Versa and hightailed it out there, Google map in hand.  We arrived at Southampton after sunset and spent the rest of the evening on the deck, enjoying beer and company. 

The following day, after a bracing splash in the icy lake and a long warm-up in the hot tub, we made our way into Saugeen for a bite to eat and a grocery shopping expedition.  Apple&Jacks volunteered to make a late lunch and perogies were on the menu…barbequed perogies.  Now the Ukrainian in me was having a hard time comprehending this.  I grew up with one tried-and-true method of perogy preparation: cook in boiling water until they float.  For an added bonus, fry in pan to crisp up.  This last step is usually reserved for dealing with leftovers, but I preferred them this way.  With roasting pans in hand, however, Jacks confidently set forth to demonstrate this little bit of magic and thumb his nose at generations of Slavic tradition.  Here’s a rundown of what he did:

-Heat BBQ.  Saute some onions in roasting pan with melted butter and oil;
-In the other roasting pan, saute perogies in more butter and oil until heated through and crispy golden brown.
-Serve with the sauteed onions sour cream, snipped chives, precooked bacon, and hot sauce (optional) [update-should be hot banana peppers and NOT hot sauce. Thanks, Jacks]. 

That’s it.  Done.  Easy peasy.  And as you can surmise from the photo above, they were mighty tasty.


 That evening on dinner duty, I prepared a dinner of barbequed chicken and lamb souvlaki with vegetable skewers and a warm potato salad.  I was too busy cooking to take pictures, and it was so dark by the time we ate that I was at the grill wearing a headlight.  Brought back memories of camping.  And the food wasn’t bad.  The sunset was really nice, though.

Oh, and I still get a chuckle about the neighbour who was struggling with the concept of the bear flag: “Now is that pro-bear, or against bears?”  I guess the ten bearded, burly, beer-drinking men didn’t offer her a clue.  Too funny.


10 2009

Nutty Club

Nutty Club

No, this is not the name of our crafters’ club…although I wouldn’t debate its accuracy.  I thought, considering the name of this foodie blog and all, that it was high time I showed you some crispy bits.  Please enjoy them in their full-coloured glory.  These crunchy candy coralettes (also known as sprinkles, jimmies, candy vermicelli, sugar strands, hundreds-and-thousands, or hagelslag) are from Nutty Club, a Western Canadian company with their head office in Winnipeg.


In operation and “serving Canadians coast to coast” since 1903, I honestly believe they have not changed their branding since probably the 30’s.  Bless them for that.  I think the handless, dancing CAN-D-MAN on the package has worked his way into the collective memories of everyone who spent any time in the Prairies.  The company specializes in confectionary and baking products and I have vivid recollections of both.

The racks of snacks are most often seen in small-town grocery stores, co-ops, and gas stations and contain snack-sized bags of ju jubes, allsorts, scotch mints, humbugs, chicken bones, and midget mix.  Also available were the more savoury items such as peanuts, popcorn and sunflower seeds.  My high school store had one of these racks and my favourite treat was a bag of salt-and-vinegar peanuts smuggled into typing class.  Any type of food was strictly forbidden, so my typing buddy and I were flush with rebellion as we sneakily munched away at the back of class.  In retrospect, it was rather unhygienic, what with the communal Smith-Coronas and all and then licking the sour salt off my fingers.  But hey, it was the early 80’s and times were simple then; no one worried about these things.  Well, apparently the teacher did.


Anyone who’s spent a nanosecond in a Prairie kitchen, especially during a bout of seasonal baking, has probably caught site of the Nutty Club food colouring in their funky bottles (see above).  And no matter how many drops you added to the frosting, your red and green never came out more than pink and mint…not exactly what one hopes for when decorating those Christmas cookies.

Always the avid baker, my grandmother’s basement larder was a veritable treasure trove of Nutty Club baking products: bags of baking ju jubes she liked to put in her carrot cake (a nice alternative to raisins, I must say), the pressed sugar decorations reserved for special occasions, pecan halves, miniature candied fruit slices, and sprinkles and trim-ettes for days.  My grandmother also enjoyed serving Nutty Club “juice” made from appropriately-coloured concentrated syrups to which one added water.  Cherry was a favourite.

So if you’re ever passing through a town west of the Great Lakes, keep an eye out for the dancing CAN-D-MAN, grab a bag of Midget Mix, and participate in our national identity.  If, on the other hand, you’re heading to Paris and see a box of these goodies:


…pick one up for me because these are NOT available here.  I’ll pay you back.


09 2009

Vegetarian Butter Chicken


Once a year, I am inspired to undertake the ordeal of a detoxifying cleansing program.  This usually occurs after a long winter of over-indulgent eating and an extended period of activity no more strenuous than operating a remote control.  Ah…those dark Canadian winters.  But when the days get longer and the pants get tighter (and my favourite shows’ seasons start wrapping up), I get off my butt, throw out any treats I might have hidden in the recesses of the cabinets, and kick-start the Spring with a good cleanse.

 Detox Box

A dear friend, knowing my penchant for over-complicating things and always trying to support my causes, gave me a fantastic detox program called “The Detox Box” by Dr. Mark Hyman.  This is not just a simple cayenne-honey-lemon-water-drink-for-three-days kind of thing.  No ma’am.  This program tackles your toxic issues from multiple angles over a multi-week period.  We’re talking journal-writing.  We’re talking yoga three times a day.  We’re talking dry-brushing and lavender and salt baths and meditation and long walks and saunas and naps and cardio sessions.  And we’re talking food, or rather no food: no meat, no chicken, no dairy, no soy, no sugar, no nightshade vegetables, no starches, nothing processed.  If it comes in a package, it’s out.  Only non-predator fish, grains, many vegetables and some berries.  Oh, and clay.  We can’t forget the bentonite clay.

Now I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I will avoid the quackery of a detoxifying cleanse.  I do believe that the body is essentially self-regulating and that our internal systems are designed to promote a healthy state.  However, I can personally attest to the benefits of the program:  my skin gets clearer, my organs get a holiday, my senses become heightened, my appreciation for simple food grows, and the quality of my nutrition improves tenfold.

And what does this have to do with butterless, chickenless butter chicken?  Well let me tell you, it’s not easy coming up with meal variations using the same few food items for three weeks.  Some Internet research offered up a few options, one of which was the basis for this yummy dish.  It’s completely vegan and while it doesn’t exactly duplicate the traditional Murgh Makhani from the Mugal Empire, it does work at capturing the spirit: creamy and rich, flavourful without being too spicy, and it’s great on rice.

for more info on using dried chickpeas, click here.

For more info on using dried chickpeas, click here.

One of the great things about this kind of dish is the flexibility the recipe allows.  Use any combination of vegetables you might have on hand; my favourite is cauliflower, carrot and pea with chickpeas.  And while almond butter might be the easiest to find, experiment with different nut butters like cashew or hazelnut.  You also don’t need to be on a detox program to enjoy this dish, but I grant you full permission to feel redeemed upon its consumption.

Recipe on following page… Read the rest of this entry →


08 2009


Lemon Artichoke Hummus
Lemon Artichoke Hummus

This Mediterranean dip born of chickpeas and sesame is also known by its other iterations such as houmous, humus, hoummos, or humous.  While no one knows its historical origins, folklore often insists hummus is one of the oldest-known prepared foods.  Many cookbooks and recipes have survived since antiquity, but hummus was not mentioned until the 18th-century in Damascus sources.  Many scholars have dismissed its more modern routes by arguing that hummus has been such an everyday staple, writing down a recipe for it would be akin to a recipe for boiling water.

Middle Eastern debates aside, the puree has always been popular with the granola set in the West and really hit its stride with the cocktail crowd and suburban families alike in the past decade or so.  One may find the dip upon every party table, garnished with cilantro, drizzled with olive oil, or sprinkled with cumin and always always always served with pita (and sometimes sturdy vegetables for scooping).

hummus in processor

Presently, humus is accessible in any of its mutations at virtually all grocery stores in flavours like roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, jalapeno, carmelized onion, sundried tomato and on and on.  And while it’s easy and convenient to buy, the taste and texture leaves a lot to be desired.  Fortunately, it’s also easy to make at home; the ingredients are simple and you’ll have fun coming up with your very own signature hummus once you’ve mastered the basics.  The recipe I have on offer is a lemon artichoke version but simply eliminate artichoke and lemon zest to create the basic gold standard.  It’s inspired by a Cooks Illustrated recipe but with such simple ingredients, one hardly needs a recipe at all.  Lemony, garlicky, salty, silky, substantial perfection.


Finally, a word about chickpeas:  if you’re going the homemade route, go all the way and use dried chickpeas (see note following recipe).  They’re cheaper than canned and you’ll have the pleasure of creating something right from scratch.  Take this with a grain of salt, though, because I have been known once upon a time to bake a loaf of bread to make my own croutons for a caesar salad.  I know.  Crazy.  But you can make all kinds of other fun things with the extra legumes, including my vegetarian butter chicken (no butter and no chicken…recipe to come).  Anyway, happy dipping…

Read the rest of this entry →


06 2009