Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear Soup


Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada! I made big turkey dinner for my family last night and then we watched the Blue Jays’ baseball game together. It was fun family time and the Blue Jays won, so we had much to celebrate.

Many people take a moment on Thanksgiving Day to mention all of the things that they are thankful for. I have a long list of family and friends who make my life special and I hope they know who they are. I also have a passion for photography and food, and the joy that sharing those passions brings me. I am thankful for those blessings every day, not just today.

One of my blog followers asked me to feature a fall soup so I tried out this vegan version of Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear soup. It is a compilation of a few recipes. I really like the complex flavour that adding coconut milk adds to the recipe. The consistency is lighter than other butternut squash soups that I have made but, it is still packed with flavour.

I hope you enjoy the soup. Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers!


Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear Soup

Makes 8 servings


2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 medium leeks, finely chopped

2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced finely

6 pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces

6 cups low sodium vegetable broth

1 cup coconut milk

Fresh thyme sprigs and pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)




In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and ginger and sauté until tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

Add the squash and pears and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until squash is tender.

Remove from heat and add coconut milk. Puree the soup in a blender in batches and serve with your choice of garnish.



Asparagus Vichyssoise Soup to Warm Your Heart


For those of you who live in warm climates, I am envious. Canada and the Northeast U.S. has been pummeled with snow for the past few days. Our poor neighbours south of the border in Buffalo, NY had 4 feet of snow fall on them. Yes, you read that correctly, that was 4 feet not 4 inches. It is only November and I am already dreaming of flying to warmer climates. I often wish I could live in Canada during our warm season and New Zealand during theirs. It would be fun to switch hemispheres every 6 months.

Even with the cold, I am starting to get excited about the holidays! My grandson is in kindergarten and has his first school concert next month. The holidays are so much more fun when you see them through the eyes of a child. They still believe in the magic of the season. They believe that if they wish for something, it will come true.

In the spirit of the season I have 3 wishes:

I wish that we could truly have peace on earth.
I wish that those who are less fortunate are able to find warmth and food this winter.
I wish that we could each take time out from our day to do something good for someone else.

If you could have 3 wishes what would they be? If you could help someone this holiday season, what would you do?

To warm up from the weather outside, I made a wonderful version of my favourite soup, Vichyssoise. This is Yotam Ottolenghi’s version from his cookbook called Plenty which adds asparagus for even more dimension. Once you taste this version you may not go back to the original.


Asparagus Vichyssoise Soup

Makes 4 servings

2 leeks
1 pound asparagus
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 ½ tbsp. butter
2 ½ cups organic vegetable stock
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp. heavy cream
6 tbsp. Greek yogurt
Grated zest of ½ lemon

Peel the potato and dice, roughly. Chop off and discard the green of the leeks, cut them in half lengthways, wash and slice. Cut off and discard the woody base of the asparagus, then cut into ¾ inch pieces; keep the tips separate. Reserve a few whole spears.
In a big pan, sauté all the vegetables, other than the asparagus tips in butter for four minutes, taking care they don’t colour. Add stock, sugar and a little seasoning, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, lid on, for 40 minutes. Add the asparagus tips and cook for and additional 10 minutes.
Once done puree the soup in a blender until smooth, fold in the cream and half the yogurt, leave to cool to room temperature, then chill. While it’s cooling, bring a pot of water to the boil, blanch the reserved asparagus spears for 30 seconds, drain.
To serve, pour the chilled soup into bowls, add a dollop of yogurt and swirl with the tip of a skewer. Place some blanched asparagus pieces in the centre of the soup and garnish with lemon zest.

Recipe from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Wonderful Vegetarian Corn Soup with Avocado and Lime


Why are there so many competitive cooking shows on TV?

There is Master Chef, Recipes to Riches, Cutthroat Kitchen, My Kitchen Rules, just to name a few. What happened to educational programs like Cooking with Julia or Jacques Pepin where the chef prepared dishes and explained classic techniques as they went along.

What are we learning from watching people compete against one another to win cash or titles? Are the people who are disqualified lesser chefs, or did they just not do well under pressure? Are we learning how to cook or how to compete?

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a program filled with fresh ideas, demonstrations and tips on how to make the dish work. Show me a chef with a passion for food and some amazing ingredients. Then show me how they can turn those ingredients into mouth-watering dishes and I will give you my attention and I will come back for more.

I find my cooking inspiration from great chefs, home cooks and wonderful cookbooks. I am often found sitting curled up in an arm-chair, sipping a cup of tea, and pouring over a good cookbook or a beautiful magazine. I imagine the taste of each recipe and how I might tweak it to make it my own. I look for ones that include seasonal ingredients so the flavours will be fresh and delightful. I mark my favourite pages with sticky notes so when it is time to go shopping I can refer back to those recipes, easily, to make my list.

When I saw this recipe in Gourmet Traveller I was immediately inspired. I have changed the ingredients to suit my taste and to make it work as an easy vegetarian soup that is perfect for this time of year. I love the combination of the tomato and corn based soup with the freshness of the lime and avocado.

Corn Soup With Avocado and Lime

Makes 4 servings


6 vine-ripened tomatoes, halved
14 oz. can Plum tomatoes, drained
1 Spanish onion, cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic gloves, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
3 cups frozen corn
2 avocados, coarsely chopped
1 fresh lime, juiced
1 fresh lime, cut in wedges for serving
1/2 cup fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
Hot sauce, optional-add to taste


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place tomato halves, skin side up on a cookie sheet, add onion and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Place tray in the oven and cook 5 minutes or until the skin starts to blister. Remove the pan from the oven and remove skin from tomatoes.

Heat remaining oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until tender. Add stock, roasted vegetables, canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Season and simmer 10 minutes.

Pulse in the blender in batches until it is a coarse puree and return it to the pot. Add corn and bring back to a simmer for 5 minutes on medium heat, until the corn is tender.

Coarsely crush the peeled avocado in a bowl, add lime juice and coriander.

Serve soup in individual bowls topping each with the avocado mixture and serving with extra lime on the side.

Hot sauce can be added to taste. I left it out since I prefer a milder soup.

Recipe inspired by Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook-2013 Collectors Edition

Tuscan Bean Soup – Warming Hearts for a Worthy Cause


Instead of starting my year with resolutions about losing weight and getting in shape, I decided that this year I would try to give back to the community in some way. I am blessed with a good job, a thriving business, good health and loving people in my life. There are so many others who are less fortunate who could use some help.

My hope is that if we each decided to perform a single act of kindness each month or give of ourselves regularly, collectively it would make a difference. Of course, if you can do more, it would be more beneficial. I plan to feature some groups that are giving back to the community in some way through cooking or giving of food.

I was really inspired by the Sharon Hapton story. Sharon decided, as she was turning 50, to do something to give back to the community so she founded Soup Sisters. Soup Sisters is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comfort to women and children in need through the making, sharing and donating of soup to domestic abuse shelters. Soup Sisters have twelve chapters across Canada, with plans to expand into the United States. At the time of printing the book, the organization had provided over 100,000 bowls of soup to women and children in need.

It is not often that I am able to feature a cookbook that is produced by a charitable organization. Often, books produced to raise funds are a collection of home recipes by volunteers photocopied and clipped together with a cerlox binding. The Soup Sisters Cookbook is so much more than that. This lovely cookbook features 100 recipes for heartwarming soups from more than 50 chefs and food professionals. Mouth watering recipes such as this Tuscan Bean Soup, or Curried Squash and Coconut, or Apple, Carrot and Parsnip are divided by season and are accompanied by lovely photos. Although most of these soups were made in large batches for the shelters, the recipes are all written to yield 6-8 servings.

If you are a soup lover, as I am, you will love this cookbook.



Tuscan Bean Soup

Makes 6 servings


2 cups (500 ml) cooked white navy beans (drained and rinsed if canned)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, washed and sliced
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
6 large Roma tomatoes, diced
3 gloves garlic, minced and finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
8 cups (2 L) chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish


Puree half the beans until smooth, adding a little water if necessary. Place the pureed beans in a bowl with the remaining whole beans and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the onion, carrot, celery and leek in the oil, until the onion is softened.

Stir in all the beans and the tomatoes, garlic and thyme.

Add the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low.

Simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle up in a bowl and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Recipe from The Soup Sisters Cookbook contributed by Caren McSherry, cookbook author and Owner, The Gourmet Warehouse, Vancouver, BC

I bought mine here:


For more information visit www.soupsisters.org or email: info@soupsisters.org

Potato Leek Soup with Stilton


I remember the first time I took a cooking class. It was held by the Board of Education at a high school near my home. Our instructor was the executive chef for a major bank. I remember learning how to cook classic dishes like Beef Wellington, Boulangere Potatoes, Caesar Salad and Potato Leek soup.

A few years later I had that same soup at an upscale restaurant in Toronto called Fenton’s. For years Fenton’s was my favourite place to eat for special occasions since the food was superb. Their chef added a chunk of English Stilton to each bowl making the Potato Leek soup outstanding. Stilton is a relatively strong cheese which provides perfect balance to the creamy soup. I loved it so much I ordered it every time I ate there. Sadly, Fenton’s closed down many years ago, but I still make the soup the same way that they served it.

I have taken many culinary courses since then and have tried numerous soup recipes but Potato Leek is still my favourite soup on a cold winter’s day. It would make a great starter for a holiday meal or a wonderful lunch main course.

Many of my readers who live in the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week.
I wish you and your families a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!


Potato Leek Soup with Stilton


2 tbsp. butter (30 mL) sliced to 1/4 inch

4 leeks, white part only, washed and

1 large onion, thinly sliced

5 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1/2 inch cubes

5 cups chicken stock (1 L)

1/2 tsp. dried thyme (2.5 mL)

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper (1.25 mlL)

1/4 cup of whipping cream (60 mL)

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives (60 mL)

4 oz. Stilton or blue cheese, crumbled (110 g)


Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and onion and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, approximately 5-8 minutes.

Add the potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, and black pepper.

Bring the mixture to a boil; remove any scum that floats to the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are soft, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Process the mixture with a hand blender until smooth.  Add the whipping cream and mix well.

Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Add a 1/1/2 inch chunk of Stilton to the centre of each bowl and sprinkle each serving with the chives.

Food Styling with some Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup


School is out………….Let the fun begin!

I just spent the past 2 months in the Food Styling Program at the famous George Brown College Culinary Institute in Toronto. I signed up for the course after taking Culinary Arts 1 as well as other Food in the Media courses so that I could learn to create beautiful, mouth watering shots.


All of the photos on my blog have been of food that I have cooked or baked, styled and photographed myself. Since I had no formal training in food styling, I decided to try out the program at George Brown College. I like the idea of offering clients a full service of styling and shooting if their budget does not allow for a team.


In the course we learned how create fake ice cream out of shortening and icing sugar, as real ice cream would melt under the hot lights while shooting. This was fun but more difficult than it sounds. The mixture needs to be just the right consistency to look real.


It was a great experience working with a teacher who has been styling for years, as well as another food photographer. We styled ice cream, pancakes, burgers, fruit salads, cupcakes, full course meals, as well as hot and cold drinks.


One downside to taking a food styling course in a cooking school was the problem finding a place to shoot the food, once it was styled. The lighting in the kitchen was strong overhead lighting that reflected off of the stainless steel cooking surfaces and there was only one small window in the area where we cooked. I took these quick shots of my creations to share with you and to remind me of the techniques.

I plan to spend the next few months playing with the concepts that we learned and creating some really fun shots. There is nothing more relaxing than spending time creating food shots that are as delicious to look at as they are to eat.

I have also started working on some pairings of local foods with Ontario wines so please pop back and have a look.

This recipe intrigued me because of the wonderful combination of lemon and dill with the chicken soup.


Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Makes 4 servings


1 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick

1 celery stalk, sliced crosswise ½ thick

12 oz. skinless, boneless, chicken thighs

6 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

½ cup orzo

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

Lemon halves (for serving)


Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leeks and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes. Add chicken and broth, season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite size pieces.

Meanwhile return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente 8-10 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over

Recipe from Bon Appetit April 2013 edition

Skating on the World’s Longest Skating Rink

Photograph by J.S.Swider

Photograph by J.S.Swider

I checked off another box on my bucket last week. I had always wanted to skate the Rideau Canal in our country’s capital city of Ottawa.

With the plan to do this we drove to Ottawa for a long weekend getaway. I had only been to Ottawa in warmer weather so I had never seen the canal frozen and open for skaters. The canal rink is 7.8 km long and is the longest skating rink in the world. Local residents use the canal as a way to commute to work to work on skates while carrying their boots in backpacks.

The canal rink is very well maintained. Every 0.2 km along the route there are signs to tell you where you are and how far you have travelled. Also, every few kilometres there are change huts, washrooms and food concessions where you can buy a hot chocolate or other hot drinks.

The traditional snack along the way are Beaver Tails. Since beavers were declared our national animal in 1975 some clever person decided to make a pastry in the shape of a long flat beaver tail. You can try them with a variety of toppings from sugar and cinnamon to maple and hazelnut. Even though Beaver Tails have become a classic Canadian treat I had never tasted one until this year. I tried one after skating and quickly fell in love. The pastry had a long, thin fried doughnut-like texture that had been topped with cinnamon and sugar. It tasted amazing!


On our first evening in Ottawa we skated part of the canal to get used to the ice. Afterward we enjoyed a terrific dinner at Maxwell’s Bistro on Elgin St.

The next day we rose early and set out to skate the canal from end to end. I had never skated such a long distance before but the sun was shining, the day was beautiful and I was determined to make it to the end. I was very tired in the last kilometre and had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath but I made it to the end, then we walked all the way back. That afternoon we rested and then ventured out to another local bistro called The Buzz to enjoy a delightful dinner of Steak Frites, Creme Brule and Red wine. I slept like a baby that night.

I hope to go back to Ottawa again soon so I can skate the canal both ways.


Photograph by J.S. Swider

Photograph by J.S. Swider

After a long day of winter activity I love to enjoy a bowl of hot soup. This Winter Minestrone is from Ina Garten’s new book Foolproof and the recipe is just that.


Winter Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8


Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, ½-inch-diced
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (½-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2½ cups (½-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1½ tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
½ cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste.

Serve large shallow bowls of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.

NOTE: To cook the pasta, put 1 cup of pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.

You can make this soup ahead and reheat it before serving. It will need to be re-seasoned.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten and also published in Canadian House and Home Magazine

Piquant Vegetable Soup-My Culinary Education Continues

We had a great snow storm last week. It is not often that Toronto gets dumped on with 28cm of snow. Most of the time we are spared the large snowfalls because we are nestled in a small pocket on the north shore of Lake Ontario. When the areas surrounding the city get snow, we usually do not see any.

Last Friday was an exception bringing us the largest snowfall since 2008. It was really beautiful in many ways. I know people were stuck in traffic or had to shovel their way out, but if you were able to see it there was something else going on.

If you paid close attention you could feel the nostalgia in the air. Those of us who remembered the large snowfalls of our childhood were out in droves tobogganing, skiing, playing and remembering the snow forts that we used to build. It was like we were kids again.

Children were laughing as they caught snowflakes on their tongues and fell to the ground to make snow angels with their arms and legs. What a great day!

Winter can be fun and it can also be beautiful. The view can be breathtaking when you are looking out at freshly fallen snow on a bright sunny day, the sunlight bouncing across the snow and sparkles lighting up the sky.

Most of us try to find interesting ways to pass the time in the winter. I continue to be busy with my culinary education. Every week I pack up after work, change into my chef’s uniform and scurry off to class. We are learning to chop, dice, Julienne and chiffonade our way through the recipes.

I am learning that following a recipe does not make you a cook. Learning the foundational skills will help you to understand why things work together.

Did you know that there are 4 kinds of sauce? They are Brown Sauce, White Sauce, Red Sauce and Butter Sauce. Each of these can be further developed to become a number of different variations. For example a White Sauce can become a Béchamel, a Veal Veloute, a Fish Veloute or a Chicken Veloute. Then each of those variations can become a number of other sauces. A Béchamel is used to make other sauces like Cream, Aurore, Chantilly, Mornay, Nantus and Soubise. Just mastering the art of making sauces can improve your cooking skills, immensely.

This soup recipe that we made in class creates a hearty vegetable soup that is packed with flavour. The lime leaf adds a note of citrus and the red chili flakes add a hint of spice. This one is perfect for a winter day.

Piquant Vegetable Soup

Makes 8-10 servings


1 tsp. vegetable oil
½ cup yellow onion, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
½ cup celery, diced
2/3 cup cabbage diced
¼ cup chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh baby spinach, washed and chopped, stems removed
2 slices bacon, diced
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, diced with liquid
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh parsley chopped
6 ½ cups chicken stock
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp. red chili flakes
2 Kefir lime leaves
White pepper


Dice onions and garlic. Dice all of the rest of the vegetables and set aside in a bowl.

Heat 1 tsp. of the vegetable oil in a large saucepan, add bacon and sweat. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until onions are they are translucent.

Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and continue to sweat until the vegetables are tender.

Add the plum tomatoes, stock and chili flakes. Bring to a boil and skim. Add the beans and the lime leaf. Simmer 20 minutes on medium heat. Add the herbs and chopped spinach. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Recipe adapted from the George Brown College Culinary Arts 1 Syllabus

Vegetarian Borsch


I recently had the honour of making a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for some friends of mine. The Sviaty Vechir consists of a meal including 12 dishes that contain no meat and no dairy products. This special dinner is held on January 6th which marks the beginning of the Christmas season on the Julian calendar.

It is tradition that the family gathers around the table to celebrate the holiday that begins when the first star is seen in the night sky. The table is set and the candles are lit and an extra place is set for those who cannot be there. It is a night to celebrate and a night to remember ancestors.

The meal always begins with a serving of Kutia which is a pudding made from wheat berries often flavoured with poppy seeds, fruit, nuts or honey. This course is followed by Borsch soup, cabbage rolls, and various fish and vegetable dishes.

Since I am not Ukrainian I had to do some research before inviting my friends to dinner. I wanted it to be special, while preserving tradition.  I admit that I picked up a few of the dishes at the Deli and Ukrainian bakery in Toronto’s Bloor West Village. Even with the dishes that I picked up, I still had many more to prepare. I wanted to make it a meal to remember.

One of the dishes that I made was this rich, ruby-red borsch soup.The recipe can be altered by using beef broth but am posting the vegetarian version. The broth is light and flavourful and the vegetables add enough substance to make it a heart warming addition to any meal.

Vegetarian  Borsch

Makes 6 servings


8 cups vegetable broth
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 large beets, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
1 large potato, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste


Pour vegetable broth into a large pot and add beets, carrots, and potato; bring to boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Stir in cabbage and 1/2 cup dill; cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in vinegar.

Ladle soup into bowls. Top with a sprinkle of dill or a dollop of sour cream.