Monday, August 31, 2009

Chocolate almond toffee bars

These are Anna Olson’s Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars by way of a video on the Chatelaine web site. They're a variation on the Hello Dolly or my mom’s Goody Bars, which I’ve been eating my whole life. But these are a little different because they’ve got a thick oaty base and double the toppings, yet that old baking staple – a can of sweetened condensed milk -- remains a must. They’re super rich so be sure to cut them into small squares.

This is a six-minute recipe. Honestly, the hardest part is waiting for them to cool.


Makes 8 -inch (2 L) pan (25 squares)


1 1/2 cups (375 mL) rolled oats

1/2 cup (125 mL) graham cracker crumbs

1/4 tsp (1 mL) fine salt

1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup (250 mL) Skor toffee bits

1 cup (250 mL) chocolate chips

1 cup (250 mL) sliced almonds

1 can sweetened condensed milk


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and line an 8-inch (2 L) square pan with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the sides of the pan.

Stir the oats, graham crumbs and salt in a bowl to combine, then stir in the melted butter. Press the crumbly oat mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle Skor bits evenly on top, followed by chocolate chips and sliced almonds. Pour condensed milk evenly over pan (it will sink in as it bakes) and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling. Cool to room temperature in the pan, then chill for at least 4 hours before slicing into bars. Store toffee bars in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ex hits the spot

Herewith I survey the classic snacks that have become a big part of the annual tradition known as the Ex, a.k.a. the Canadian National Exhibition, on until September 7th in Toronto.

CANDY APPLE: Although they're appealingly fire engine red and touched with cherry flavouring, let's be honest about candy apples: They may be a fairground classic, but nobody actually eats them. Mine's been sitting in the trailer window a bit too long, so the caramel is melting away. The apple tastes acrid and is mushy and bruised. I toss it where it belongs, into a can piled high with cups and corncobs like a game of garbage Jenga.

HONEYDEW: Watching me enjoy the orange elixir, a CNE newbie approaches and asks, "What does that taste like?" I say: "It's Tang-like, with a little pulp." Made with real fruit juice and honey, each 8 oz. glass also contains 100% of the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C. Developed by Frederick and Donald Ryan, who some say were also the inventors of the roller skate, Honeydew was sold in shops and town halls throughout Ontario, and during Prohibition became one of Canada's most enduring beverages.

CORN DOG: These hot dogs dipped in a cornmeal coating, then deep-fried, are one of the most popular savoury courses at any expo. Fair food is largely food that has been fried, deep-fried or double deep-fried. At country fairs across the United States, I've enjoyed everything from pickles to Snickers, Oreos to cheesecake, turkey legs to tamales, all lovingly battered, impaled with wooden skewers and then dropped into vats of hot oil for 30 seconds or so. Can you say ''hot battered yumminess''?

TINY TOM DONUTS: The Flyer's gone. So is the Alpine Way. But so long as there's a CNE, there will always be Tiny Tom Donuts. Interlopers are on the grounds selling miniature sugar-coated fritters, but Tiny Tom is the benchmark, has been since 1960. Kids smoosh their noses up to the mini conveyor belt fryer, following the procession from dough, to fried, to sugar-coated. Go for the cinnamon or icing sugar. Newer flavours include chocolate and apple cinnamon, but that's just wrong. After a quick sugar shake, the mini dozen of hot deliciousness is all yours.

ICE CREAM WAFFLES: One of the biggest sellers at the fair is the The Original Hot CNE Waffle, so boasts the signs on the seven strategically placed trailers. This napkin of nirvana has always been my favourite Ex food. Blocks of snowy-white, non-premium Chapman's ice cream are sliced into a sandwich filling for two slightly spongy waffles. It's at once hot and cold, sweet and salty, crisp and smooth. And as timeless as the giant Ferris wheel.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spinach Dijon Salmon

It’s baaaack…Just when you thought we were all done with farmed Atlantic salmon, now comes this: As of June 8th, New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture officially became the first company to offer Eco Certified farmed Atlantic salmon in North America. (The announcement coincided with World Oceans Day.) While the certification of seafood is a growing trend (see: OceanWise, SeaChoice), the certification of farmed seafood – in particular salmon – represents the next frontier of sustainable seafood for a global client hooked on the ocean’s bounty.

Certified under IFQC, an internationally-recognized organization, the eco label requires Cooke Aquaculture to meet stringent standards in five key areas: Marine environment, feed, energy, water use, packaging and waste.

The Canadian-owned aquaculture company sells more than 115 million pounds of salmon each year across Canada and the USA. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to. And if what they say is true (I'll be doing some Nancy Drew type research), this could be huge.

What about you? Have you given up on farmed Atlantic salmon? Either way, here’s one of my favourite salmon dishes from my first cookbook.


(serves 4)

Preheat oven to 425 F.


4 salmon filets, about 6 oz. each

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (1 or 2 lemons)

1 bunch spinach leaves, washed and dried

1/2 bunch fresh dill, chopped

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1 egg white, whipped to stiff peaks


Marinate salmon filets in lemon juice for 20 minutes in the fridge. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, cook spinach until it’s soft, drain well, squeeze out excess water with your hands, then set aside.

When the marinating time is almost up, mix together chopped dill, mayo, Dijon, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, then carefully fold in the stiff egg white.

Remove salmon filets from lemon juice and lay them on a baking sheet, skin side down. Place some cooked spinach over the salmon then evenly spread the mustard mixture over each spinach-covered filet. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes. The topping will poof a bit and brown.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Only in Winnipeg, eh? Pity

I just got in from a mind-blowing trip to Manitoba (more on that later), which I capped off by spending a couple of hours with one of Canada's best pizza chefs.
So renowned are the pies at Diana Coutu's pizza shop in Winnipeg, that she was a judge for the 2009 Pizza Championship Games in Salsomaggiore, Italy. I don't want to give too much away as I'm going to be writing a story on her, but I thought I'd share a photo to temp the tum.
Eating this amazing pizza could not have come at a better time: It almost makes up for this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hot Pepper Jelly

My style of cooking is fast, easy and (hopefully) tasty. Baking bores me. Letting dough rise is tantamount to watching paint dry. I'm a methodical cook, but an impatient one too. So you won't find me making finicky sweets or elaborate cakes. (Oddly, a 12-hour smoked brisket doesn't faze me.)

So when the good people at Bernardin sent me their brand new Home Canning Starter Kit, I thought, feh. I don't do canning. But the thing was huge, I was heading up to the cottage, would have time to kill, and my brother David would be bringing the recipe card for his famous red pepper jelly.

The kit came neatly contained within the massive canning pot -- everything you'd need from a funnel to a rack -- even the pectin. (It only comes with four jars though so you'll have to buy some more unless you only want to can two or three peaches.) We got to work by seeding a bunch of bell peppers and Jalapenos, then blitzed everything together in the Cuisinart. And then I got bored and went for a swim while David did the rest.

Before long, we had a year's worth of cheese's best friend.

On an unrelated note, I'm off to Northern Manitoba this afternoon to do this. If the Net connection is working, I'll try to post some pics while I'm there. In the meantime, enjoy David's delicious recipe.


(makes 8 jam jars)

1 pound red bell peppers

1/2 pound green bell peppers

6 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

2 Jalapenos

1 packet (57grams) Bernarin Fruit Pectin

Cut the bell peppers into 1-inch pieces and in a food processor chop them vety fine. Transfer the chopped peppers to a deep kettle, add the sugar, the vinegar, and the red pepper flakes, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the pectin and boil the mixture over moderately high heat, stirring, until it reaches the jelly stage. Transfer the jelly to sterilized jam jars (see instructions below), filling the jars to within 1/4 inch of the tops, wipe the rims with a dampened towel, and seal the jars. The jelly keeps, sealed, in a cool dark place indefinitely.

To Sterilize Jars and Glasses For Pickling and Preserving:

Wash the jars in hot suds and rinse them in scalding water. Put the jars in a very large pot and cover them with hot water. Bring the water to a boil, covered, and boil the jars for 15 minutes from the time that steam emerges from the big pot. Turn off the heat and let the jars stand in the hot water. Just before they are to be filled invert the jars onto a kitchen towel to dry. (The jars should be filled while they are still hot.) Sterilize the jar lids for 5 minutes, or according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

One slice will do, thank you

I was heading off to Chicago for a conference and asked for last-minute suggestions from my Facebook friends – stuff I could do late at night or during quickie breaks. There was talk of the Art Institute. Done! Millennium Park (loved it!) Taking in the lakefront, and the entire city from the 94th floor of the Hancock Building -- and with Saturday night fireworks to boot – tell me, when’s the last time you were situated above fireworks?

We sucked and swirled at the oyster bar at Shaw’s Crab House and inhaled frisee salad Lyonnaise and moules frites at Brasserie Jo. In case you haven’t figured it out, I am absolutely coo-coo for Chicago. And yet, there was one misstep.

And I can’t say that I wasn’t warned.

Always out for new taste sensations, I simply had to try true deep dish Chicago style pizza while in the windy city. I won’t tell you where I ate it, but I will tell you that it was authentic, all-natural, and said to be one of the finest examples in town. I went for the basic cheese pie. Grease oozed out when I sliced into it (you must use a fork and knife to eat this stuff, no two ways about it.) I finished an entire slice and then I was done.

It would be the first – and last time I try deep-dish pizza.

Has anyone else out there tried it? And liked it? Really?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Halloumi: Part 2

Summer salad alert!

This is a riff on the Lebanese fattoush, but mine’s got a lot more vegetables, a lot less herbage and pita, and gets rounded out with the help of some griddled halloumi cheese.

All I did was chunk up some tomatoes and garden cucumbers, cut up some pita, drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with za’atar. Then I broiled the pita pieces in a preheated oven until super crunchy. I sliced up a packet of halloumi after rinsing and drying it, put a little oil in a pan and fried the slices until nicely browned. (Also sliced up some red onion on the side; we have some onion haters in the family and why not make everyone happy?)

For assemblage I broke up the pita chips, tossed everything together with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and more za’atar; added some fresh herbs from the garden (use whatever you've got; there are no wrong answers here. Except for sage), and then served the salad immediately so that the pita chips didn’t get too soggy and the cheese stayed warm.

I simply cannot eat enough of this stuff and no matter how much of it you make, there will be no leftovers.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Food dare

I wrote a food feature in the National Post last month, all about the surprising trend of meat meeting sweet in the dessert course.
As it turns out I missed one -- a great example from food blogger Ashley, a talented baker out of the Northwest. Recipe included. Enjoy your homemade bacon caramels!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Jello is one of those weird cravings that come along once every few years. But when the sun is shining and the kids are clamouring for dessert, a bit of boiled water and a packet of cow's bones usually gets the job done. This raspberry/raspberry combo was pretty good, but things have been so hectic around here that I think next time I'm going to make these instead.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The paella plan

It all started with two big orange bell peppers.

I had gone grocery shopping and bought too much fresh veg, forgetting I was going away, and returned from my trip to find the peppers on their last legs. But what to do? I had already made a quick salad of the first one. But how many other dishes include bell peppers (if you don’t feel like roasting them or stuffing them)? I also had some organic chicken legs kicking around the back of the fridge and a couple of quality beef hot dogs from a bbq were chillin’ too. Perusing the freezer, there were some long lost frozen peas and a handful of shrimp.

But it was the saffron I spotted in the spice cupboard – a gift from someone who went to Spain last year (but who?) that would be the linchpin of my plan: An easy paella.

Now all I needed was some chicken stock (no problem; I used some Parve powder) plus a few squirts of spicy Hungarian tomato and pepper paste I had pocketed in Budapest. Some saut̩ed fresh onion and garlic plus arborio rice -- all three always on hand Рand within a half hour I was enjoying a delectable Spanish feast.

Project paella: Mission (deliciously) accomplished.


(serves 4)


3 cups chicken stock (plus an extra half cup if rice gets dry)

good pinch of quality saffron threads

2 Tbsp olive oil

4 chicken legs or thighs, season with salt and pepper

2 quality beef hot dogs (or sausages of your choice, like chorizo)

1 small onion, diced

1 large orange pepper, sliced into strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 ½ cups arborio rice

12 large cooked shrimp

1 cup of frozen peas

drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste


Bring stock to a boil then reduce to simmer. Add saffron and let it steep (like tea) for a few minutes. Remove stock from heat.

In a large (13 or 14-inch) oven safe skillet (I used a cast iron pan), add 1 Tbsp oil, heat up, then add seasoned chicken. Cook for about 8 minutes, then add in hot dogs or sausages and cook for a few minutes more. Chicken should be well-browned and hot dogs should have some colour too.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove meats from pan and set aside. Add second Tbsp of oil, add onion and orange pepper to pan and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato pepper paste and garlic and cook together a few minutes more.

Add rice to pan with vegetable mixture until rice is well coated with oil and juices. Then add chicken and hot dogs back to the pan, spacing out the peppers and meat evenly. Pat it all down so it digs into the rice and rice is a nice even layer that blankets the bottom of the skillet. Slowly add stock to the pan.

Bring to a gentle boil then carefully transfer uncovered skillet to preheated oven and let it cook uncovered, for 20 minutes or until rice is tender and there’s no liquid left. If it’s not done and there’s no liquid left, add about a ½ cup more stock and pop back into oven.

With about 3 minutes to go, take paella out of oven and scatter shrimp and peas on top. Drizzle with a bit of olive and season with salt and pepper before serving.