Cooking for two

Sunday, October 4, 2015
Now that there's just two of us at home, I'll have to learn to cook all over again. I'm used to cooking for four, which means if I'm not careful, our fridge gets full of leftovers that can take days to finish. Freezing leftovers is a good option, but not everything freezes well. And I'd rather make smaller amounts so we have some variety, rather than pulling out increasingly smaller containers of yesterday's (or the day before's) dinner.

Maybe it was the "for two" that appealed to me about this recipe. Or maybe it was the great flavours - asparagus, pancetta, parmesan - all wrapped together in one dish. Whatever it was, this asparagus side dish was a real winner. So good, in fact, that it made me long for leftovers.

Sauteed Asparagus with Pancetta and Parmigiano for Two

8 medium-large asparagus spears
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
1/2 ounce/15 grams pancetta, coarsely chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
scant 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp finely grated parmigiano-reggiano

Slice the asparagus on a sharp angle into pieces that are 2 inches long.

In a medium (9-10 inch) nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil and 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add pancetta and cook until crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and transfer pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add asparagus to the skillet, season with salt, and return pan to the heat, raising it to medium-high. Cook stirring frequently, until all of the asparagus pieces are nicely browned, up to 10 minutes. They will still be firm, but not crunchy.

Remove pan from the heat and add remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter and the balsamic vinegar (it will sizzle). Stir right away and keep stirring until butter has melted. Transfer asparagus to a serving dish and garnish with Parmigiano and pancetta crisps.

Foodservice Friday: Mai Bistro

Friday, October 2, 2015
The patio. All photos courtesy of Mai Bistro's Facebook page
Last week I mentioned I’d start a new feature this week. Twice a month on Fridays, I’ll write about a restaurant I’ve visited (and loved! Only good reviews here). Whenever possible, I’ll share something about the restaurant or the chef.

And for the record, I’m paying for my own meal at all the restaurants I visit. I choose them because I want to visit them, and my opinions are entirely my own.

I visited Mai Bistro a couple of weeks ago with my friend Dale. The location was perfect, just steps away from our church. We sat on the tiny front patio not knowing anything about the restaurant except that it served a combination of Asian and South American food, and offered share plates, which would let us sample an array of dishes.

I loved everything we ordered. If I had to pick main course favourites, I’d go with the lamb curry spring rolls (easily the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten) and the Vietnamese style pork tacos. The next time I visit, I’ll start my order with these two items. And my favourite overall dish was the peaches poached in port wine and served with mango ice cream. Whenever I see a menu item this simple, I know it’s going to be wonderful.

After I came home, I read a little about the chef/owner Manh Nguyen, and realized why our meal was so spectacular. A Japanese chef by training, he was the sous chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Caracas Venezuela. He returned to Toronto as the chef at the popular Supermarket restaurant, where he was named one of the Top 10 Chefs in Toronto in 2005.

The evening we ate at Mai Bistro, Nguyen came over to talk to us, and I found him friendly and unpretentious. I later chatted with him for the purposes of this blog post, and asked about his most memorable culinary experience. He told me this story:

Five years ago, he was participating in an Iron Chef competition in Toronto, hosted by Matt Galloway, one of Toronto’s best-known morning show hosts. The judges included popular Toronto chef Susur Lee, well-known international chef Martin Yan, and the acclaimed food writer Andrew Chase. One of the dishes Nguyen prepared was a smoked trout prepared in tea. One of the judges – who shall remain nameless – took a bite of the trout and announced, “This is the best salmon I’ve ever eaten in my life!”

Nguyen the man is charming, and Nguyen the chef is unbelievably talented. Mai Bistro is one of those amazing little restaurants you happen upon by word of mouth. I tried it on the recommendation of Sarah from my favourite bookstore. Now I hope I can spread the word!

4906 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON

(647) 343-3130


Sunday, September 27, 2015
A week ago, Andrew told me he'd rather not have any more squash this fall.

I wasn't sure what to do with that information. The first day of fall was on Wednesday, which means we were still in summer when he made his request. And maybe that's the problem. I can find a good reason to cook with squash year-round, and I often do. This wonderful salad that features it as a main ingredient is a perfect example of a salad I'd make twelve months a year.

It's hard to imagine not cooking with squash for an entire season, but Andrew is a good sport about all the recipes I try for my blog, and he eats almost everything I make.  And in the end, I don't mind sacrificing one ingredient to achieve happiness in my house.

At least, I can sacrifice it on the nights he's eating at home. Working around his evening meetings, and the travel that sometimes takes him out of town, I'm still anticipating a lot of squash in my future.

And if we're going to be specific, fall is over on December 21 - and I make no promises about cutting out squash this winter.

Roasted Squash Salad with Goat Cheese and Toasted Hazelnuts
(from The Sobo Cookbook, by Lisa Ahier)

2 lb butternut squash (1 medium squash)
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup whole hazelnuts
2 tsp salt
4 cups mixed greens (I used arugula and spinach, but use what you like)
1 cup crumbled goat cheese

Port Wine Vinaigrette

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup port
3 Tbsp orange juice
1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the squash and dice it into 3/4” cubes. Toss the cubes in the oil, place them on a baking sheet, and roast for 20 – 25 minutes, until soft. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Arrange the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for about 3 minutes, then place them on a clean kitchen towel and give them a good rub to remove the skins.

While they are baking or cooling, prepare the port wine vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients except the oil in a small bowl. Add the oil in slowly, whisking until the dressing has emulsified. Refrigerate for up to a week.

In a large bowl, season the squash with the salt then toss with the toasted hazelnuts, greens, goat cheese and vinaigrette.

Thursday's Child: The Relaunch

Thursday, September 24, 2015
Digging for clams in PEI with my dad and sister in 1974 
You've probably noticed my Thursday's Child travel posts have been on hiatus for a couple of months. I'm not giving them up, but I am trying something different. In addition to the occasional Thursday's Child story, I'll be starting a new feature next week. Come back next Friday and take a look!

In the meantime, check out my blog post on the Restaurants Canada website, where I've written about a shellfish festival in Prince Edward Island. Although I didn't take this trip myself,  it sounds like so much fun, I think I've talked myself into going next year!

Toronto Food and Wine Show

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Earlier this summer, I took a job as Communications Specialist at Restaurants Canada. (A writing job in the food industry? How perfect is that?) This week I attended the Toronto Food and Wine Festival with my colleague Anita, to cover this celebration of restaurants, caterers and food purveyors of all kinds.

I attended a presentation given by Kevin Kent, self-described knife geek. I have to be honest - I'm a bit nervous around knives as sharp as the ones he demonstrated on stage. But after listening to him talk about the beauty of Japanese knives (their harder steel means they start out sharper, and stay sharp longer) I felt a little more confident about giving one a try. With stores in Calgary, Kelowna, Ottawa and Edmonton, and plans to open one soon in Toronto, Kevin's passion for a really great knife was inspirational.

Anita and I visited the Grand Tasting Pavilion which featured over 130 booths with some of the best food from around the city and beyond. This was a working trip, but we couldn't leave without trying some of the fabulous dishes on offer.

The Loblaw's Black Label booth served scallops on a gorgeous butternut squash risotto.

Beautiful loaded baguettes, courtesy of Cluny Bistro.
Delicious breakfast sandwiches by Cafe Belong, on their peerless buttermilk biscuits.

I couldn't pass up the spicy pork lettuce wraps from Little Sister, an Indonesian restaurant that I've wanted to try since it opened. This wrap was phenomenal - I'll be visiting the restaurant soon!

Beautiful macarons, prepared by AG Macarons, which I discovered is dangerously close to my house.

Stirling Butter makes European-style butter, a product that I've looked for before and didn't know I could buy in Toronto. (Higher in fat and lower in water, it's something I've longed to bake with for ages.) I cheerfully chatted about butter and baking with the saleswomen, then bought four packages of their European-style unsalted butter. I considered buying eight, but realized that might confuse the person with whom I share my fridge. Check my blog in the coming weeks for butter-intensive recipes.

One of my personal highlights was meeting Chef Antonio Park, chef and owner of Montreal's brilliant Park restaurant. This restaurant is on my all-time wish list - I'd happily travel to Montreal just for one of his dinners. In his spare time, Park is a judge on The Food Network's Chopped Canada and has just opened a second restaurant, the Argentinian Lavanderia. He was friendly and gracious with his time, a true pleasure to meet.

How could I choose one recipe this week? In the end, I had to go with Antonio Park's simple but fabulous Creamy Carrot and Onion dressing. The original recipe makes a huge batch; I made a quarter of the recipe and was rewarded with a super-quick and wonderful salad dressing.

Antonio Park's Creamy Carrot and Onion Dressing
(recipe courtesy of the National Post)

one quarter of a large carrot, peeled and chopped
one quarter of a sweet onion (or red onion), chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree at high speed until smooth. Store in a covered jar in the fridge for up to three weeks.

Let her eat cake

Sunday, September 13, 2015
Two weeks ago, both of my daughters set off for university, my youngest for the first time. It felt like a poignant end to their childhood. I found myself reflecting about the past and wondering about the future. How often would we see them, and what would our new family time be like?

But it wasn't long until I heard from my young freshman. She was having a great time, her classes were going well, and university was great. Also, could she come home for the weekend?

I remembered my oldest took comfort from an early visit home in her first year, and with both their schools a short distance away, it's easily done.

"Yes," I texted, "of course you can come home. Anything special you'd like me to make?"

In response came a plaintive, one-word text: "Cake."

Cake isn't really my thing. I generally just make cake for birthdays (and sometimes even those are celebrated with fruit desserts). But for her first visit home, I decided not only would I make her cake, I'd make it in her favourite flavour - mint chocolate.

And when my oldest daughter found out her sister was home for the weekend, she made time in her schedule for a Friday night dinner with us. Which is how we found ourselves sitting in the back yard on a warm evening, hearing stories about school, and eating a dessert that everyone (especially the guest of honour) described as fantastic.

Perhaps you really can have your cake and eat it too.

Mint Chocolate Cake
(adapted from The Food Network)



14 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
16 tablespoons (1 cup) butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup (6 ounces) small-diced Peppermint Pattie candies (note: these are easier to cut if you freeze them first)

Ganache Topping:

1 cup cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Chocolate Mint Sauce:

8 Tbsp (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup cream
a pinch of kosher salt
1/4 tsp peppermint extract

To make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter a 9 1/2 to 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, and flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.

Melt the chocolate with the butter and cream in the top of a double boiler. Let cool to room temperature.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very thick and light (about 5 minutes). Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg yolks and mix until just blended. Add the flour, salt, and vanilla and stir until combined. Transfer the batter to a large bowl and stir in the Peppermint Pattie pieces. The mixture will be quite thick.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to medium soft peaks. Lighten the batter by stirring in about one-third of the egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites and spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes. The top of the cake will feel set and very fine hairline cracks will just start to form around the edges. Remove and cool in the pan on a rack.

To make the ganache topping:

Heat the cream in a medium saucepan to just under a boil. Add the chopped chocolate and, over very low heat, constantly stirring, heat the mixture until it is completely smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until thickened and spreadable. This can take several hours. You can make the topping up to 3 days ahead, refrigerate it, and allow it to come to room temperature for several hours before using.

Place the cooled cake upside down on a plate. Remove the sides and bottom of the springform pan. Remove the parchment liner. Using an offset spatula, spread the ganache over what is now the top of the cake, drawing the ganache all the way out to the edges of the cake. Using the offset spatula, level the edges to give the cake a finished look.

Serve at room temperature with chocolate mint sauce and ice cream.

To make the chocolate mint sauce:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and cocoa, then stir in the cream and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Allow to simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened somewhat. Remove from heat. Add the peppermint extract a few drops at a time until the sauce is as minty as you like (you probably won't use all of it). Cool and serve at room temperature. This can be made up to 1 week ahead of time.

Pillars of light

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

- Mary Oliver, "In Blackwater Woods"

Another back-to-school photo. Two girls in university: one in fourth year and one in first. I am so proud of my two young women.

On this last weekend of summer/first weekend of fall, I have to share one of my favourite recipes from the summer. These wonderful roasted green beans with cremini mushrooms are a classic. I made them the first weekend the fresh local green beans showed up in the farmers' market, and I'll be making them until they're gone.

Roasted Green Beans and Cremini Mushrooms with Rosemary-Garlic oil
(from Fast, Fresh & Green, by Susie Middleton)


10 ounces/285 grams cremini mushrooms (quartered if large, halved if small)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (first amount)
Kosher salt
12 ounces/340 grams green beans, trimmed
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (second amount)
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil (third amount)
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes


Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, toss the mushrooms thoroughly with 2 Tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Spread out the mushrooms in one layer, cut side down, on one end of the sheet pan. (They can be close together.) Toss the green beans with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Spread the green beans out in one layer on the rest of the pan. Roast until the green beans are shrunken and very wrinkled, and the mushrooms are tender, shrunken, and beginning to brown, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the remaining 4 tsp oil in a small nonstick skillet along with the garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Once the oil starts bubbling, cook for 1 minute to infuse the oil with the flavours and to soften the garlic. Remove the skillet from the heat and let sit while the vegetables finish cooking.

Transfer the cooked vegetables to a mixing bowl. Scrape the seasoned oil out of the skillet and over the vegetables; toss thoroughly. Transfer to a serving platter or dinner plates.