Friday, December 31, 2010

Look what's around us

I get asked a lot of questions about food, I'm considered a radical and I get into trouble and upset some people because of my big mouth, however, if I wasn't honest then I would be lying to myself.  So I comment on where I will and won't eat out, what I think of corporate pizzas and cheap chocolate, without hesitation.  After being told I'm a snob, I usually get asked lots of questions about what I cook and how I do it.

I cook from what I have in the fridge without a recipe.  Cooking from raw materials in your fridge is all about knowledge of techniques and ingredients.  As I have said before, North Americans have lost the ability to even make a simple soup from scratch.  Cooking is a very easy skill to gain, easy to improve and easy to practice.  Think about it, we eat 2-5 meals a day, that's 14-35 meals a week, 58-140 meals a month.  That's a lot of practice.  I think if we have a core set of "tricks" then you can have a multitude of palate pleasing meals.  Keep in mind, that not all experiments work out (I always have oatmeal on hand...).  One of my favourite cookbooks is the Joy of Cooking.  It's a perfect reference book on all sorts of things.  

Let's take soup, it's not rocket science.  Take the method of making soup - your veg, your liquid, your meat, your seasoning and your flavours.  Easy - take a butternut squash, peel and cubed.  Roast it in the oven, mash it, add garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder and chicken stock to make the desired consistency - add a nice ciabatta from your local bakery and voila - dinner in 45 minutes with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. 

The squash puree before adding the chicken stock, you can add to risotto rice and voila - squash risotto, or just mash the roasted squash in your food processor with garlic and ginger, serve as a side with steak - easy!  Three dishes from a handful of stuff I bet we all have in our fridge.

I also get a lot of questions from people who have the opportunity to charter boats in the Caribbean in the wintertime.  They think they have to eat like here.  The way we eat in a cold climate is much different in a hot one!  First rule, I promise you don't need to eat half the amount of calories.  Second rule, I promise you don't have to have 3 square meals a day, grazing through the late morning, early afternoon will keep you satisfied.

Breakfast is easy, fresh local fruit - like a banana, toast with peanut butter or whatever the locals like on their toast (sea grape jam rocks!) and a coffee with some rum -  Voila.  Graze throughout the day on fresh coconut meat, a coconut water drink with some rum (I sense a theme here), fruit, nuts, maybe a brioche from the bakery in town.  Dinner - see what is at the local market - fish, collard greens and even a tray of Caribbean style mac n' cheese.  You can make a stew with coconut milk, okra, leafy greens, fresh fruit and once the stew is ready, just pop in fresh chunks of local fish.  Voila!  Dessert - rum of course.  Throw out your ideas of an appetizer, formal dessert, stuffing your face.  Enjoy the experience of new flavours, a new culture and new and old friends sitting in the cockpit, the food is secondary!

Just look around you, we have a lot to eat, and we're lucky.  Ask the locals what to cook, how to cook it.  Go to the markets with a pen and paper, take notes.  That's what Paul and I do when we are on vacation, we've even purchased fish from the fireman on Little Cayman and from the fisherman on the boat launch on Cayman Brac.  I've cooked a whole fish wrapped in foil slathered with local mangos, limes, butter, rum and coconut and just slapped it down on the table with 2 forks and just enjoyed every single bite - no fancy silverware or even plates!  A good coconut water and rum drink to wash it all down - perfect.

If we look what is on hand, what is available seasonally and ask; cooking is easy.  If you don't know any cooking techniques or tricks, take classes.  What you learn in cooking classes you will have forever, knowledge is power.  Invest in your health - take more cooking classes.

Here's my favourite way to serve fish:

Serves 1

1 large piece of foil
1 fennel bulb - julienne (you can also use okra, green beans etc.)
1 carrot - julienne
1 clove garlic - fine chop
1 shallot - julienne
glug of olive oil
glug of white wine (or rum)
salt and pepper
caraway or nutmeg

Place all veg in one half of the foil, glug the veg with the olive oil and white wine.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and caraway (or chili powder or curry powder).  Place fish fillet over the pile of goodness.  Fold the foil over the entire pile, seal the edges.  Put in 400 F oven for 20 minutes.  Remove, tear open foil and voila - dinner with no effort.  You can do this on the bbq or grill, just put a cookie sheet on the grill, do not put the fish packet directly on the grill as the veg will burn.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Joys of Baking

It's 6 days until Christmas Day.  I have made, to date, over 500 truffles and molded chocolates and over 5 pounds of English Toffee.  Almost all my deliveries are done and I can now do some Christmas baking for myself.  I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my kitchen activities so will only make one or two kinds of cookies, maybe a cake - but this year, I'm addicted to the cute little French Macaron.  It's not like the North American Macaroon at all.  It's a cute little sandwich cookie made with heaps of sugar, egg whites and ground almonds.  Then it's filled with all sorts of amazing flavours.  This weekend I'm making dulce de leche, pistacho, black sesame, rose water and I hope to have time for passion fruit.  The flavours are endless and I wish I could just make hundreds of different flavours and share them all!

Even though I sell stuff, chocolates, candies, cakes, deep down I wish I could just give it all away, share my passion with others, alas, the ingredients cost money so I share when I can.  Even though I charge for my product I don't make a lot of money, never a profit, my joy is seeing people's happiness when they taste something they have never heard of, taste something new and exotic.  There are very few new flavours I get to enjoy and when I do taste something new, I'm hooked.  Last year I got the opportunity to spend 7 months in Chocolate School and the 3 flavours I will never forget tasting for the first time are Green Tea Ganache, Cardamom and Saffron Ganache and Rose water buttercream!  My fellow classmates wondered why I went on and on about new flavours and my Chef Instructor explained that a lot of chefs don't often have an opportunity to taste new flavours and it's an event.

That's the beauty of pastry for me, new flavours.  I'm a newbie in the pastry world, just 3 years in and still finding new flavour profiles, new ingredients and mixing some flavours with others I never would have thought of. 

But I digress...back to home baking.  Most of us can remember baking alongside their moms or grandmas.  I remember doing both.  My mom liked to keep things clean and tidy, mostly I watched and stuck a little kid finger in the cookie batter when she turned her back (always afraid of the eyes watching me from the back of her head).  My grandma, she let us taste her icing by the spoonful, used to spray whipcream from the can right into our mouths, letting us get flour where ever we wanted, after all "that's what a vacuum cleaner was for!", she would say.

Ever since I was little I loved to bake: chocolate chip cookies mostly, the odd chocolate cake.  Now, although I love the fancy stuff, frangipan, tortes, Bavarians, mont blancs etc., what I love most are the shortbread cookies, the hand rolled truffles, gingerbread and cakes filled with gobs of french buttercream.  That's my comfort food.  And I like to get messy, that flour on my nose, the gob of cake batter down my shirt, the chocolate under my fingernails, the cookie dough stuck on the bottom of my sock.  We can always clean it up later, after sharing all that goodness with our family, friends, neighbours and co-workers.

So here's my French Macaron recipe, it may take a few tries to get it right and to figure out your oven temperatures but once you have the technique down, it's really a lot of fun!

Vanilla Macarons - Yield 80 Twoonie sized cookies or 40 sandwich cookies

300 g     Icing sugar
225 g     Ground Almonds
150 g     Fresh egg whites (4-5 egg whites)
150 g     Sugar
5 ml      Vanilla 
Choice of food colouring

Preheat oven 310 F.
Sift together icing sugar and almonds.
Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites to a stiff peak.
Gradually add sugar.  Whites will become shiny.
Manually fold almond and icing sugar mixture into egg whites.
Add colour.
The most important part:  Work filling with a spatula until the mixture doesn't hold a peak any longer, it should spread very slowly.
Pipe twooney sized rounds onto lined tray and let air dry for 10-20 minutes.
Bake 10-14 minutes (will vary a lot depending on your oven).

Fillings are endless, here's my buttercream recipe that you can flavour with fruit, rose water etc.  You can also use flavoured ganaches like tea, sesame etc. and please colour your macarons to reflect your flavour - makes life more colourful!

Easy Buttercream

450 g    Icing Sugar
680 g    Butter
95 g     Pasturized Egg Whites
15 ml    Vanilla

Using a mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy.
Gradually add the egg whites, whip for another 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
Can add lemon zest, lemon juice or passion fruit compound etc. as required.

I will post more pictures of my macrons later today! 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What's that heavenly smell?

Name something the majority of us consume everyday - some of us every 2 hours.  Here are some hints, it's used as a flavouring in sweets, cakes, meats, savoury sauces?  No idea yet.  Well we all know the smell whether we consume it or not and 99% of us smell it first thing in the morning.  No not yet?  We pay pennies for it, pay a lot for it.  Black, cream, sugar, vanilla flavour shot, lots of foam, no foam, double sweet medium temperature, a little extra water, strong, weak, decaf...Well you have got to be kidding me if you haven't figured out yet that I'm talking about coffee!

The history of coffee is long and sordid.  Thought to have originated in Ethopia but maybe not.  The name might have come from the Turkish "Kawha" - meaning "wine of the bean" (from Wikipedia).  However what we all know about coffee is how much we take it for granted in our every day life - until the unspeakable happens, it tastes terrible...

How many times have we woken up on a Sunday morning with that throbbing headache or that rumbling in our stomach and thought "let's go out for breakfast"?  You go to the local egg place, order whatever suits your fancy and order your cuppa joe.  The waitress takes your order, takes your menu and hops away to let the fry cook know your wishes.  She then flies over with a fistful of chipped white coffee mugs and a handful of plastic encased creamers tossed down with packets of white sugar and sweeteners stained with old strawberry jam.  You can tell from the pot the coffee will be weak, You can read the writing on the opposite of the carafe telling you not to place this pot on direct heat.  The brown coloured hot water smells like coffee - but you know - it's no Gold Coast blend from the mountains of Hawaii.  Depending on how you take your coffee you could be drinking warm cream or hot sugar syrup.  

Me, I am usually disappointed in the coffees at the majority of breakfast places.  Places where people go to cure their hangover, stuff their faces or just  for the love of breakfast (like me).

Oh no, is that peppy waitress coming my way again with more brown hot water, should I resist?  Oh what the hell, pour another, I need my caffeine, I'll go home and make a proper cup of coffee later.  Why, why don't we complain about this tragedy?  The restaurant makes the effort to offer 6 kinds of toast, 10 kinds of pre-packaged jam,  fresh fruit garnish on your plate.  They take the time to cook your eggs exactly how you order and make your bacon extra, extra, extra crispy without burning it.  So why is a flavourful, interesting cup of coffee so out of reach?  It's not just the cost, a cupper usually runs between $1.50 and $2 in those joints.  If I ever find a egg place that serves tasty, eye opening, interesting coffee (and possibly fresh made hollandaise sauce) then I will be a customer for life.

Let us now turn to our favourite breakfast foods.  Me - Eggs Benedict, aka Eggs Benny.  However, the Hollandaise sauce is a lost art.  I'm sure most chefs don't realize that you can make Hollandaise from scratch and adding water to a packet of yellow powder is not the only way to make Hollandaise.  Sure it takes a bit of practice, but it's well worth it.

According to Wikipedia: "Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, claimed that he had wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 and, hoping to find a cure for his morning hangover, ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon and a hooker of hollandaise." Oscar Tschirky, the famed maitre d'hotel, was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus but substituted ham and a toasted English muffin for the bacon and toast."

I like that a "hooker of hollandaise".  The meaning is a "slug or glug of hollandaise".  Hollandaise takes practice but well worth the rich tartiness effort over those creamy poached eggs, salty bacon and crispy English muffin - Please do not let your muffins go soggy and keep the hookers coming!

Yeah Hollandaise - Boo bad coffee!  And with my hangover all gone and a pot of great coffee made in my Italian espresso maker here's an easy Hollandaise Sauce recipe to make for next Saturday's breakfast or Monday night's dinner.

Hollandaise Sauce


  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 pinch ground white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Fill the bottom of a double boiler part-way with water. Make sure that water does not touch the top pan. Bring water to a gentle simmer. In the top of the double boiler, whisk together egg yolks, lemon juice, white pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tablespoon water.
  2. Add the melted butter to egg yolk mixture 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time while whisking yolks constantly. If hollandaise begins to get too thick, add a teaspoon or two of hot water. Continue whisking until all butter is incorporated. Whisk in salt, then remove from heat. Place a lid on pan to keep sauce warm.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Local eating and eating locally

I did my yearly catering job for The Store Mason's Chandlery last night.  I look forward to it every year, they love it and I always have a great time.  Lori pretty much gives me free reign of what the menu will be which makes is all the more enjoyable!  Last night's menu, goat cheese and leek tarts, leek and green peppercorn tarts for the app., dinner was gnocchi with beef ragu and lots of local, in season veg and garlic bread.  Finally the piece du resistance - dessert -my current fav. - Pavlona.  All that crunch, creaminess, sweetness, topped off with cranberries, sour cherries, pistachios and shavings of white chocolate.  MMMMM

The fun for me also in creating menus; choosing as much local, in season foods as possible.  Obviously, from the menu above, I cannot get local chocolate, pistachios, pepper or salt.  However, I can get local goat cheese, leeks, puff pastry, eggs, butter, canned tomatoes, cranberries, cherries, squash, celery root, juniper berries etc.  I like to think that I am helping local farmers by buying local from suppliers that are small, family run joints.  If we look around, most of the stores, restaurants, bakeries either are run by extremely large corporations, mostly American or they are supplied by large corporations and who knows where they get their produce or meat.  

I like the thought of family run businesses, they have character, personality and no one is the same.  They have an uphill climb to compete against the corporations who are endless money pits.  They don't have the 'buying power' of large corporations, so their profit margin is lower because they pay more for their produce and meat.  I don't mind paying more, it's worth it for me to fight against the monster we call capitalism.

Some of you know that I struggle to produce great food, great cakes and great chocolates that are affordable.  I can't compete against Costco, Laura Secord, Lindt or Pumpernickles, I also won't compete against them!  I spend time researching what my customers buy from me.  I am proud that I can say I support local as much as possible, I am also proud that I can say I only use seasonal ingredients.  I have actually told customers that I don't to chocolate dipped strawberries in February!  So if I lose that customer, c'est la vie, I unlike corporations, don't have shareholders to answer to - the beauty of the family run business.  I also try not to contribute to the demise our our earth.

I know we are all powerless in some way to avoid the few corporate run food suppliers in this world but when I drive up to Bobcaygeon, I know my step mom has purchased her butter and eggs from the local farmers.  I get my produce  and eggs from Lanzarotta, again mostly local and a family run business.  My meat comes from farmers as close as Woodbridge, my wine comes from Kawartha County.

The restaurants I go to, well I'm lucky that I know the chefs, but I run into them at my butcher!  They buy local too.

Let's raise a glass to family run businesses.  I'm a bargain hunter like most people, but lately I'm wondering at what cost to our world and our community.  I don't have a membership at Costco, I don't shop at Walmart.  I don't mind paying more for butter and eggs as long as it's from mom and pop!

Eat local - eat fresh!  Food is life and let's share our community with each other! Let's discover the talented farmers, butchers, bakers and chefs that live nearby.

Talking of local, and it's a cold, cold day outside and we all love comfort food, how about dark beer, cheddar soup for dinner!  I love this soup, it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside and every ingredient can be bought from local mom and pop shops.


½ cup butter
1 cup red or yellow onions, chopped
½ cup carrot, diced
½  cup celery, diced
½ cup flour
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt or to taste
 ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper or to taste
16 oz chicken broth
4 cups milk
12 oz can dark beer - Stout preferably!
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese grated - at least 5 year old cheddar

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the aromatic vegetables and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. If you don't have carrots and/or celery on hand, increase the amount of onion. Some variations of this soup only use onion.

2. (Have your liquid ingredients measured before starting this step.) Add the dry ingredients and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

3. Gradually stir in the liquids. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the soup comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened. Do not let it boil.

4. Stir in the cheeses until they melt. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Let the soup barely simmer for another 10-15 minutes to mix the flavours.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Planet Earth is Beautiful

I'm not advertising this particular post.  It's a sensitive topic.  

I'm upset how us in the so called civilized world treat our home - planet earth.  We rape the land for parking lots, we drain the earth of oil, we murder our marine mammals and we all seem to think that if it doesn't happen in my backyard then it doesn't effect me.  If I don't know about it then it doesn't matter.  It does matter.  We get upset at the geese pooping on the grass but forget how we foul our own drinking water, we complain about the cost of food but forget about sustainable farming.

I am not perfect, but I sure try hard to be contentious about my choices in my life.  I know what fish species I should bypass at the fish mongers, I avoid produce that is imported from the other side of the world when that produce is available from local farmers and for the most part I avoid out of season fresh fruit, it's not natural and it's unnecessary to eat tasteless strawberries in February.  I can wait until June.

Think about where you food comes from.  I'm lucky that I know how to cook.  I have said it before that North Americans are quickly losing our talents for cooking meals from scratch.  I don't buy processed food.  That way I know the fresh tuna I'm buying is not Blue Fin Tuna, it's Yellow Tail, a much more healthy fish population.  I know my salmon is farmed.  I know my chicken is from a small farmer who doesn't have to cater to large operation food processors.  If my backyard had more sunlight, I would have a large vegetable garden, I grow what I can.  

There are societies in our so-called civilized world who murder dolphins.  The Japanese heard these animals into a cove, net them in then spear them over and over again until they bleed to death.  20,000 animals are taken each year, babies included.  The 'meat' from these animals are so high in lead and mercury that the effects are starting to appear in the organs and blood steams of those that consume dolphin meat.  I don't feel sorry for them.  No one needs to eat dolphin or whale or wear seal fur.

I am not preaching veganism.  I eat meat and I always will.   However, what I do differently is I know where my meat comes from, how it's raised and what the impact on the environment I cause by eating meat.

I have recently discovered the journey of the Sea Shepherd.  To me, they are heroes.  We can't all do what they do but we can help - even if it's just being aware of what human beings are doing to our planet - our home.  Captain Paul Watson is a unique being and I am proud to say he is Canadian.

We all need to do our part in some small way.  If we all take the time to learn about where our processed food comes from, then learn how to make a meal from raw materials, fresh - in season produce, we can make a difference for the future of our home.

I'm sad.  I see all these people rush home to just sit and watch their TV all night, not thinking.  On the train they play games on their IPhone or listen to their music, not thinking.  Even though I can't see out the train window because of the darkness at night, I can look at my reflection and compare my life with those lives around me.  

If we all just walked a little slower to our cars when it's raining out - fuck the umbrella!  The rain is part of our home.  If we take the time to feel the burning of the cold winter wind, we might be a little more thankful for our heated homes.  If we took the time to shop for groceries using our brains rather then buying processed foods marketing companies say we should buy - we would rest a little easier at night.  

I'm getting closer and closer to fucking off, selling everything and living off the grid.  It's time we re-evaluated our lives, stepped back and learned about our planet instead of taking it for granted.  We need to look after our home and every little bit helps.  Let's stop eating processed foods or eating burgers from fast food chains, none of those things are good for our environment and how dare we be so ignorant or so arrogant to ignore the impact the human race has on the planet and the animals with whom we share this earth.

I'm sad...that's all.  Planet earth is beautiful - the human race, not so much.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cooking 101

Since the boat is out of the water and yes it was snowing this morning, I can turn my mind to my other passion - cooking!

Yesterday one of my businesses gave a cooking class (Pandora's Bakery) at Black Angus Butcher Shop in Port Credit.  There were 8 students all hungry with forks and knives in hand.  The menu was Venison Striploin roast served with a potato and yellow beet 'cake' all brought together with a drizzle of cherry balsamic glaze.  Chef Claudia took over the class and demoed the potato beet 'cake' while I cooked the roast.  As the venison roast rested we talked about the benefits of game meats and their low fat content, how to properly sear a piece of meat and the beauty of duck fat.  Venison, like most game meats must be cooked no more than a medium - about 125 F when it comes out of the oven.  When it rests before slicing the temperature will actually continue to rise to that perfect 135 F.  After the heathens were fed, we talked about all kinds of herbs and spices that go with game meats.  Venison is a general term for the deer family and deer eat grass, pine needles, nuts, berries...etc.  The best pairings for venison - earthy flavours such as juniper, fennel, caraway, cardamom and fruits.

Next recipe - Venison Ragu (which is just a fancy Italian word for stew).   Chef Claudia talked about the magic of the pressure cooker while I filled it with tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, shallots, garlic, fennel, star anise, juniper berries and all sorts of great stuff.  While the pressure cooker top danced away we moved the class up into the beef cooler.  There we talked abut the virtues of dry aging beef and the benefits of aging beef.

The Ragu was served over gnocchi slathered in duck fat and I saw a few who really, really wanted to undo their top button on their pants.

The venison class not only introduced people to game meats but helped understand how easy it is to cook and reminded me how much North Americans have forgotten about how to cook.  A friend told me that North Americans are cooking for themselves less and less, more than any society on the planet.  It's a shame as cooking is our life.  I love eating out but I love cooking with friends and for friends even more.  Let's cook more.  Let's get those expensive granite and stainless steel kitchens dirty, let us fill the refrigerator with left overs that we made not what McCain made.  Let's use those food processors, mixers and knives that we all spent so much money on.  Let's open a bottle of wine while we stir our tomato sauce or watch the pot of pasta boil over.  Let's slow down and start living simply.  I love it!  I'm glad I could share my knowledge with others and remind them that cooking is fun - and the more wine you drink the faster the clean up will seem to go afterwards...hehe

Speaking of clean up - I was cleaning out my fridge last night and found 1/2 litre of egg whites...what to do - what to do?  We had a Cuban Dancer friend popping in for dinner so I decided to make a Pavlona - a light dessert made for a famous dancer about 75 years ago in Australia:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar (very fine)
1 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 tbsp. corn starch

Preheat oven to 250 F.

In mixer beat egg whites to soft peaks.  Slowly add the sugar until the egg whites are glossy and have firm peaks.  Sprinkle vinegar and corn starch over the egg whites and fold by hand with a spatula.

On parchment paper lined baking sheet, spread the meringue in an 10" circle building up the sides just a bit (remember this will hold a filling).  Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, the meringue will crack and turn a bit brown.  Turn off oven and set the oven door ajar and let meringue cool in the oven.

Make up:  fill the well with real whipped cream, cut up your favourite fruit, or use cooked cranberries or your favourite tart jam and sprinkle over the meringue, filling the well.  Garnish with shaved chocolate or toasted coconut or whatever strikes your fancy. 

I love this dessert and it's easy to make.  Beware though - the meringue will soak up any moisture and you won't be able to keep any leftovers for the next day, I suggest you just eat it all!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The healing properties of Chocolate and Sweets

We are told everyday to watch what we eat then in the next instant we are told to buy processed food because it saves all our valuable time to do whatever we have to do and forgo healthy eating to do it.  We rush around, forget about eating at a table, without TV, with our kids, parents, nephews, cousins, friends, dogs, cats, hamsters.  We pop a tv dinner in the microwave and presto instant food.  What happened to spending time in the kitchen cooking with your kids, parents, nephews, cousins, dogs, cats and hamsters.  Sharing your time with them creating something that keeps us alive.

As a pastry chef and budding chocolatier I hear it all the time - not for me thanks, watching my weight, can't have sugar, not part of my diet, can't have butter - saturated fat.  But what do those people eat mostly - burgers, red meat, processed food, cereals, juice boxes, yogurt with out of season fruit, from God knows where.

People ask me all the time how I don't weigh 300 pounds, well my secret is that I do weigh about 10 pounds too much, sometimes 15 pounds too much, but for the most part, I don't eat processed food.  I don't eat man-made food like margarine.  I eat good quality food.  And I'm active.  I'm not perfect, there are days when I know I should lay off the bon-bons and the butter - and I do.   

When I do eat sweets, it's made with real butter, unbleached flour, quality dark chocolate (which is low in fat and sugar), whole eggs...etc.  Because I eat foods that are rich in whole ingredients, no fillers, I don't need to eat as much to feel satisfied.

I also buy my ingredients from a real butcher, a vegetable importer who just sells fresh fruits and vegetables, a fish monger, I get my flour and fresh yeast from a baker and yes, I get my chocolate from a chocolate importer.

I don't think there is anything wrong with eating dessert, in moderation, nothing wrong with eating fries in moderation.  And I believe if you are going to eat calories and fat in those amounts, make it good, don't settle.  I used to go down for a chocolate bar almost every day, doesn't happen anymore, because my palate tells me that the cheap Hershey's chocolate is mostly wax, palm oil and sugar.  I would rather wait until the new shipment of Ecuadorian chocolate comes in next week and eat the combination of pure cocoa butter, cocoa liquor and the hint of sweetness.

I say let's all start to say no to processed foods!  Let's learn to cook, just one meal a week and share it with our kids, parents, nephews, cousins, friends, dogs, cats and hamsters.  Let's all reconnect with humanity and partake in preparing a meal and eating that meal without tvs, ipods and Playstations.  I dare you.

Here's a recipe for a very simple tomato sauce to pour over any kind of pasta.  You can make a lot of it at once and freeze the leftovers.  
Tomato Sauce al a Heston Blummenthal

2 pounds     Ripe Tomatoes
3                Star Anise
1tbsp.         Whole Coriander Seed
3                Whole Cloves
2                Bay Leaves
2 tbsp.        Olive Oil
4                Shallots, diced
to taste       Salt and Pepper


Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato and drop into boiling water for 15 seconds.  Remove from water and the skin will come right off.  Cut tomatoes into chunks. 

Heat oil in large pot or heavy bottom pan.  Sweat the shallots.  Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Turn down heat to low.  Place all spices except bay leaves into a piece of cheese cloth or a coffee filter, tie with a string and toss into tomatoes.  Toss in bay leaves.  Cook on low heat for about 2 hours.  When cooked and very fragrant, toos out the spice bag (sachet) and remove bay leaves, season with salt and pepper. 

You can use this for soup (just put in blender and add chicken stock), over pasta, add to a meat sauce.  ENJOY.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Making the bad apples into something wonderful!

Owning a boat is a luxury, so why do most people complain about the work.  Paul's dad told him that to have fun you have to spend money, and boat owners spend money.  I don't mind.  Why do I like boating - freedom, that feeling of euphoria when you laugh with your friends, that feeling of being part of a group that all share the same joy, all boaters share the same difficulties in keeping their boats looking great and working properly.  

What about the friendships, everlasting, there's an instant smile that comes to one's face when you are on the water, even on the race course - you always smile at your closest rival, knowing that they are feeling the same joy as you and your crew are on the water.  That close bond between your crew, the boat, the water and the wind.  I invite people to come sailing with me all the time - first timers or old timers, why, to share my priveiege and luxury.  I think most that come out for the first time feel the same joy, wonderment, the same feeling that you are using the earth's resources without using them up.  

What about the organizations.  Some are good, some bad.  Sometimes members of a boat club lose sight of why they are members of an organization, they are there to all share in the joy of boating, the joy of meeting new people, the joy of laughing.  People tend to forget that we are only here, in this existence for a very short time.  They forget to live, to laugh and to forgive.  They forget to tolerate and they forget to laugh.  They forget to take their boats off the dock and feel the wind in their hair, feel the cool dampness after being on the water on a cool fall day with the drizzle, the clouds and the waves.  I think they forget the feeling of anticipation of putting the boat back in the water and reconnecting with friends you lost touch with over the winter during your hibernation.

Boaters forget we all share a common love, being outside, being on the water, and having a good time.  I would hope that someday they can regain that sense of being human and living and inviting more people out sailing with them to share their joy and forget the bad stuff that our short lives throw at us.  It's worth the time and money to me to have a place where I can forget about all the bad stuff, out there on the water, waiting for the 5 minute gun before the start of the race.  To forget about politics as we cast off, wondering what sails would be appropriate for the possible front approaching, to forget about reality as we search for that lost sailing glove or wrestle with a knot in a halyard.  It's more fun to stress over a perfect spinnaker gybe then what your neighbours are up to, or what you believe your fellow human beings should or should not be doing, in your opinion.

I'm sure my thoughts are same in any type of organization, sometimes we all need to step back and sort through the bad apples because I'm absolutely certain there are many more good apples in the basket then bad apples, and it's easy to take the bad apples and turn them into something outstanding - all they need is a little reminder once in a while.


Speaking of apples - IT'S CRAB APPLE SEASON
So I raided the neighbour's lawn and here's my crab apple jelly recipe:

A basket of crab apples, washed, stemmed, debugged and quartered
A handful of vanilla sugar or Splenda
2 whole star anise
1 pkg liquid pectin or 4 tbsp. powdered pectin

Put quartered apples in large stock pot, sprinkle with sugar and toss in the star anise.  Cover with water, just until the apples begin to float.  Cook on high for approximately 10-20 minutes, until apples have completely broken down.

Pour the liquid through a sieve or a large strainer lined with cheese cloth and let sit a couple of hours.  

Pour the liquid back into the stock pot and reduce the liquid by 1/4.  Add pectin and cook a further 10 to 15 minutes until the liquid begins to thicken.  Pour into jars and let cool with the lids off.  Can be stored in the fridge for quite a while (how's that for accuracy) and eat with any kind of game meats, poultry, on toast or right out of the jar with a spoon.

HINT:  if the liquid seems a tad bitter, add some vanilla and a touch more sugar or Splenda to balance the bitterness.  Crab Apple jelly should be a bit sour with a hint of bitterness which comes from the skin of the apple.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Was able to go sailing yesterday afternoon - Wednesday.  Would be my usual race night but racing is over until next May.  It was cloudy out, but there was probably about 10 knots of wind out of the South East.  We fired up the motor and took off for a couple of hours.  

The lake was amazing.  There were pockets of rain over the lake as well as on land.  We were able to sail around the rain.  It's pretty cool to be able to see the cloud cover low over the lake and see those rain squalls march by on their journey into oblivion.  A large powerboat pulled out of Port Credit Yacht Club and we watched him disappear into one of those squalls over the horizon.  The sound of the water rushing by the boat covered the sound of their motor and the rush hour traffic noise and we didn't need to talk, just exist.

To the west there was a small break in the clouds and we glimpsed some red sky as the sun tired to bring some warmth to the earth.  I sat on the low side staring out across the lake.  We could have been almost anywhere sailing.  The dark choppy water and the rain obscuring the south shore.   The English Channel, the Southern Ocean?

The cold started to catch up to us and we gybed and headed in.  There was only one other boat out on the lake and it was heaven with all that space - all that quiet!

Now, I'm sitting on my couch thinking about making my mom's butter tarts today, seems like a good day for that.  The great Canadian treat, everyone has their own recipe they love but I'll share my mom's recipe (I don't think she will mind).

1           Egg
1 cup    Brown Sugar
1 tsp.    Vanilla
Pinch     Salt
1           Nob of butter
2 tbsp.   Milk
Beat all together and add 2 tbsp. milk.  Put about 5 layers of filo pastry in a muffin tin, brushing each layer with melted butter.  Fill and seal the tart at the top by twisting the pastry.  Bake at 450 until filling is dark.

You can do the tarts using regular pastry but I find that the pastry for most butter tarts is too thick and tasteless and a waste of calories.  I mean if you are going to eat that many calories - please people - make it worth it!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Birthday, Sailing and Dinner

So yesterday was my birthday - 39...not much to say about that.

Yesterday was also the Last Blast - the final distance race of the year.  We've been trying to finish that race for the past 9 years.  One year we broke off the rudder, thank goodness my dad was with us...  One year we ripped the storm jib, yes the storm jib and the wind indicator blew off the top of the mast.  2 years in a row we decided to go to Canada's Wonderland instead and ride the coasters. Finally, yesterday, we were able to finish the race.

The day started cold, cloudy, windless and with a birthday candle in a butter tart from the gang.  With Paul on the helm, we screwed up the start and tacked BACK over the line.  After a few "words", we tacked out into the Lake, well away from the fleet, who all decided to go near shore.  The wind was blowing about 10 knots out of the east, creating those stupid little waves really close together.  Then the drizzle started - that unending drizzle.  There weren't too many boats on the lake and that was bliss - total bliss - all that space.

After 12 tacks to the mark at the Toronto Islands we managed to catch and pass the entire fleet except for the Catalina 29 or maybe it's a 34 - California Girl and that new boat Brayden owns - some sort of futuristic rocketship with an ungodly PHRF of 52.  No catching that guy.

Batteries were dead in the GPS so we sailed old school - with the compass and a pair of binoculars. As we were rounding the mark the wind died, I mean died.  The Lake was flat and we could watch the rain slam into the glossy surface as we sat there, drinking our coffee flavoured rum trying to warm up.

The wind sort of picked up out of the south so we put up the spinnaker and watched the knot metre climb to a whopping 2.34 knots of speed.  Then the wind kept swinging around to the north and we had to sort of jibe the spinnaker then out of pure - "forget it", we took it down and hoisted the headsail.  For 2 hours the wind would pick up, swing around to the south, drop swing to the West, drop - for 2 loooong hours.  However, after 5 hours and 30 some odd minutes - we crossed the finish line in 2nd place! 

We dragged our cold wet bodies home for hot showers.  Paul was taking me out for dinner at the best sushi/Japanese restaurant in Toronto - KAJI.  They are in an unassuming little hole in the wall on the Queensway, beside a massage parlour.  The chef has fresh fish flown in from Japan and other parts of the planet on a daily basis.  He also has ingredients from Japan you can't get here, fresh herbs, sakes and spices.

There were three menu choices, I chose the most expensive and Paul chose the 2nd most expensive.  We sat at the sushi bar and watched Chef Kaji and his underlings work their magic.  My meal was 10 courses, Paul's was 7 courses.  The courses that stood out most for me were the seared scallop with green peppercorns, the fresh water BBQ'd eel, lobster with fresh apple and the 3 kinds of tuna sushi.  Then there was the fresh water trout baked in salt, the steamed sea breem with chestnut puree and the sashimi - ohhhhh the sashimi.  Each plate was exquisitely presented, everything from a sort of cerviche served in a hollowed out gourd to the fragrant pine broth served in a Japanese tea pot.  In by 8 pm - out by 11 pm.  Thanks Paul - great day, great race, great food and best of all, great company!  And the rain finally stopped.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Single Handed Race - Part 1 - The night before.

It's currently the night before the single handed race.  Not sure if I will go or not, if the wind is over 15 knots then I can't do it, Ashe doesn't have an autohelm and I can't handle the boat without one in over 15 knots and choppy seas.  So I sit here, drinking apple wine listening to the wind pushing it's way through the plethora of mature trees on our street hoping for less wind tomorrow. says right now, (9:12 pm) the wind is gusting to 30 knots, that is a lot!  I bet it's a bit more than 30 knots right now.

The saving grace of this evening is the temperature.  It's perfect, about 27 degrees in the house - perfect.  I would have gone sailing tonight, in the dark, in the waves but the wind...hmmm  The beauty of sailing is your total dependence on the weather and reading it correctly.  We've chanced it and won and we've chanced it and lost - getting caught in a downpour or a squall or two - or three.  

A couple of years ago, Paul and I were racing home from the Scarborough Bluffs with our usual group of eager beavers when a squall hit the fleet.  We all saw it coming and frankly, there was nothing we could do about it!  Full sail, hatches open...  I have no idea what the wind gusted, coming out of the south east, but I remember the driving rain, the unusual calm of the water and the smile on Paul's face as he hung on for dear life on the tiller.  I was worried about the sails being damaged, he was enjoying the force of nature - the beauty of it's fury and our helplessness.

This summer, a weekend in August, we planned on sailing across the lake to 50 Point.  We set out under cloudy skies.  We watched a several squalls develop over Mississauga, squalls develop to our south and one about 1 football field from our port side.  It always amazes me to see the rain off in the distance, slowing soldiering it's way toward you, you see the trees and the land disappear then you see the water being pelted as the rain mingles with the lake water and it splashes up to the sky with the force from every drop.

I grabbed the raincoats, battened down the hatches (yes that's a real term) and smiled as we watched the full force of the wind pass behind the boat.   The full  downpour pelted the deck of Ashe.  I was laughing as I looked at Paul in his medium grade yellow rain jacket scowling as rain ran down his visor around his neck and down the back of his rain jacket.  I didn't care - it felt wonderful.

When it rains like that and you are on the water everything disappears, all around you is water and you are there on your own, the boat becoming your saviour underneath you.  Strange, you are floating on the water, yet in the water.  Personally, the downpour ended way too soon.  I was enjoying it.  I couldn't see out my glasses, we were soaked inside and out and it seemed like we were the only people on the planet.  We were laughing!

We have a cool little boat that Ashe - a tough cookie.  She's old, needs a little TLC but she's also our way out of the boring city.  Our way to be on our own.  When we sail - it's always too short a time or it's too long until the next sail.

My wine glass seems to be empty.  I guess it's time for a refill and a quick check on Sailflow to see if tomorrow's forecast has changed...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sad state of eating in public

I admit it, I'm lazy when it comes to packing a lunch.  I think about it, mull it over all weekend and then conveniently forget Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and of course Friday.  I spend probably close to $10 a day.  Shameful I say.

However, yesterday's lunch at Druxy's at commerce Court might have solved my problem.  I wanted a sandwich and didn't want to spend $10 at the Sandwich Box so I tried Druxy's (they have a new look - and free Wi Fi).  So I ordered  a sandwich with Hummus, Avocado, mango, sprouts and Swiss Cheese all on French Bread.  As I watched the woman make my sandwich, try and cut a slice or two of bread a consistent thickness and I end up with a sandwich that 3 people could have lived off of for a month.   Even the owner made a comment and I told him that's the worst sandwich I have ever seen.  Bless him for only charging me $2.

The bread was tasteless, cheese was poor quality, mango was crunchy and the hummus was uninteresting.  I think that was the last straw.  I and everyone I know work hard for their money and I just want a decent lunch, put together or made by someone who actually cares.

I went home that night and made 4 cranberry French baguettes - 3 in the freezer and one in the oven.  Total actual work: 40 minutes - total baking time: 30 minutes - total rising time: 2 hours.  Now I have enough homemade bread for the month and it has flavour and is interesting!  

I think it's time to stand up to mass produced food - after all food allows us to walk, talk, breathe and blog.  Say no.  If it's not good say something, take it back.  Eventually we might change the way process food is cranked out of uncaring factories.  

Here's my Cranberry French Baguette recipe, it makes 2 loaves.  Everything is in weight because it will guarantee consistent loaves each time, it's more accurate then volume measurements:

425 g    Water
7 g          Instant Yeast (1 package)
750 g      Bread Flour
12 g         Salt
4 g          Malt Syrup or honey
12 g       Sugar
12 g      Butter

Mix all dry ingredients and sift.  Add remaining ingredients and knead 10 minutes.  If needed add more flour to a wet dough or a little water to a dry dough (I had to add a little water).  In the winter time the dough will be drier then during the summer humid months.  Cover and let rise about 1.5 to 2 hours.  In warmer weather the dough will rise faster then in the cooler winter months.  In the winter, I put the dough by my furnace to rise.

When doubled in size, remove from bowl and knead for about 5 minutes.  Divide into 2 equal parts.  Roll out with rolling pin to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Sprinkle with desired amount of dried cranberries or your favourite dried fruit and roll into a baguette.  

To freeze: wrap in plastic and pop in freezer for a rainy day.   

To use right away: cover baguette with a towel and let rise another 30 minutes.

To bake baguette: preheat oven to 400 F, put a bowl of water in with baking - bake for 10 minutes, remove bowl of water and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes.

To bake frozen loaf: remove from freezer and remove plastic wrap.  Cover with towel on a cookie sheet and let thaw all day or over night - about 8-9 hours.  Bake as outlined above.

Enjoy fresh bread - remember, practice makes perfect.   Once you get the technique down, most likely after the first try there's no excuse to buy bread again.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Went up to Bobcaygeon this past weekend.  Love it up there.  It's a very small town with the Trent Canal running through and lock #32 right there on the main drag.  Lots of cute houses, some new, some old, some wreckers.  Lots of little cafes, cute shops.  There's a little restaurant/gift shop just north on 48 going toward Kinmount.  It's called Harmony Farms.  Food is great, nice books, jewellery and clothing, everything very reasonably priced.  I was there to peddle my chocolates.  Got a deal.  Going up Nov 13 to make chocolate santas as part of their open house.  Gives me another excuse to go to Bobcaygeon.  My dad lives there with my step mom, Sue.  They have a cute house.

We also dropped into Kawartha Country Wines.  They specialize in fruit wines.  Some sweet, some dry, some bitter.  They also have vinegars that you can drink as an appertif.  I am working on a chocolate using their Cherry Balsamic Vinegar and they might be interested in carrying my chocolate as well.

Dad took us for a little toot down Valley White Road.  It's a one lane dirt road in the woods with a few houses set back.  The road winds and has lots of ups and downs, on a day like Saturday, with the trees turning colour it was beautiful and quiet. 

Sue went to the farmers' market Saturday before we got there and I made dinner for Dad, Sue and Paul.  We had a striploin roast, roast potatoes, cauliflower and some kind of radish/turnip veggie and green tomatoes from Sue's garden.  I also made an apple pie for dessert with blackberry wine.  We drank Kawartha Country Wine's Cherry wine with dinner and got all excited discussing and laughing at our selves and our embarrassing adventures sailing and racing.  No pictures of the feast because we were drinking Bailey's and Rum and forgot.

If you have never had a striploin roast, you should do it once a year, worth the money and it's easy peasy - lemon squeezey:

Roast Striploin with Roast Potatoes
Serves 4 - don't expect any leftovers!

 2 pound      AAA Black Angus striploin - fat on
4                 Red Potatoes, quartered
1 large         Onion, chopped
2                 Sprigs of Rosemary

Preheat oven to 250 F.

Put large skillet on stove and heat to smokin' hot.  Sear the roast on all sides to a deep brown.

Put potatoes, onions and sprigs of rosemary in roasting pan and place seared roast on top.  Place pan, uncovered, in oven and cook for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours or until internal temperature of the meat reaches 140 C for medium rare.

Remove from oven and put roast in separate pan and cover with foil to rest.

Increase temperature of oven to 400 F and put potatoes back in oven to crisp up (can also put apple pie in to bake at this time).  Let potatoes cook for about 15 minutes.

Slice roast thin or thick - end pieces are the best!