Braised Beef Short Ribs

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I am finally going to acknowledge that winter is here!

I have been overly optimistic in thinking that maybe it will not be a cold winter, and maybe it will go by quickly. I even bought a light weight winter coat thinking I would be the stylish one on the subway filled with a sea of down coats and Canada Goose jackets. Well, last night I bit the bullet and bought a warmer coat.

Today I am walking around in my new toasty down filled jacket with a big smile on my face. There are giant snowflakes fluttering in the evening sky and I am smiling. The wind chill factor is well below freezing, but I am still smiling.

Since I am admitting that it is winter, I might as well feature a hearty winter recipe. These braised short ribs take a while to slowly cook but they are well worth the wait. The meat is so tender it falls off of the bones and the flavours are rich and satisfying.

I found the recipe on the FoodNetwork.ca website which was created by Chuck Hughes, a great Canadian chef from Montreal. It has a little different style from most braised short rib recipes with the addition of cocoa and cinnamon. The result is darker and richer in flavour so I served the ribs with a full-bodied red Valpolicella wine from the Verona region of Italy.

It was a match made in heaven!

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Braised Beef Short Ribs

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
2 large onions, roughly chopped
3 – 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 large carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped in 2 inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp. canola oil
6 beef short ribs (about 3 inches long)
1 cup flour
1 750 mL bottles full-bodied red wine
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
Handful peppercorns
A generous pinch coarse salt
Black pepper, freshly ground

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Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (177 C)
Prepare all vegetables and place in large bowl. Add herbs and spices, set aside.
Cut ribs between the bones, and trim all excess outer fat.
Season ribs well with coarse salt. Dredge in flour till well coated.
In a large Dutch oven or wide soup pot, pour in oil to coat bottom of pan. On high heat, sear the ribs so they are browned well on all sides (about 3 min per side). Set aside.

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In same pan, transfer all vegetables from the bowl, and stir to caramelize and pick up all the brown bits.
Add meat back into pot. Pour wine over. Ensure all is covered and if not, top up with water.
Sprinkle on cocoa powder and brown sugar, bring to a boil, cover with a lid or foil, and place in oven till meat is fork tender. (About 3 hours)
Remove ribs to a platter and strain out the solids to use for something else.
Boil the cooking liquid in a wide shallow pan till it is reduced by half. It will be richer, more flavourful and thicker. Add a nub of butter at the end for sheen and flavour.

Recipe adapted from Foodnetwork.ca-Chuck Hughes

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Let’s get healthy with Hoisin Beef & Cashew Lettuce Wraps!

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“It is never too late to be what you might have been”– George Eliot

Everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes it sounds like we only list things that we want to stop doing, rather than creating a list of things we should start doing.

The beginning of the year is a good time to take stock of your life and update your goals. I prefer to make goals that can be adjusted or updated as time goes on.. Afterall; life is an ongoing journey where goals help us to navigate toward where or what we want to be.

When you close your eyes and envision yourself as the person that you want to be, what do you see?

Do you see someone who is healthier, more successful, more artistic, more compassionate or someone else? Do you see a musician, a scholar, an athlete, a caring mother or a scientist? If you constantly envision yourself as that person you will start to see the path to get there.

Some of my own goals include being fit, eating healthy foods, being the best person I can be for my family, and being the best photographer for my clients and for my own work.

It all sounds simple, right? It can be, if you break it down into smaller goals within each of the broader goals. These are the goals that you revise or adjust as you move down the path. For example; if I want to eat healthy foods I need to focus on making recipes that will get me there. I need to make it a habit, rather than a sacrifice. No diets, not gimmicks, just delicious, healthy food.

One of the benefits of eating healthy food this time of year is that it counteracts my desire to fill up on heavy comfort foods. I feel better and have no guilt about pairing it with a glass of wine, once in a while.

If I were to call this a diet, it would only last a day or two. Instead, I tell myself this is a lifestyle choice that will keep me healthy. Eating well does not have to be bland and tasteless. This recipe is so rich in flavour from the Hoisin sauce and the cashews and it is simple to make.

Hoisin Beef & Cashew Lettuce Wraps

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. canola oil
1 1/2 lb. beef tenderloin or top sirloin grilling medallions about 1 inch thick
1/3 cup hoisin sauce plus extra for dipping
1 head boston or green leaf lettuce, washed and leaves left whole
1 red pepper, finely julienned
½ cup green onion, finely sliced
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
2 cups cooked jasmine rice (cook according to package instructions)

Directions:

Add the oil to a grill pan and heat on high. Sear beef on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn over and baste with hoisin sauce. Continue to baste on both sides and cook to medium rare. Remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Fill a whole lettuce leaf with a scoop of rice. Top with the red pepper, carrots, green onions, and cashews.

Slice the beef very thinly and add to the lettuce wraps.

Serve with some extra sauce on the side for dipping.

Recipe from Food and Drink Magazine-Early Summer 2014 edition

Cookin up Some Slow Cooker Love and Beef Stew

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What a great week this has been! I was published in Resource Magazine’s Fall 2014 edition in an article that my friend, Skip Cohen, wrote about me. If you get a chance to read that edition you might enjoy it. The theme for the Fall 2014 edition is food photography. In addition to working on that article, I have been building up my lifestyle portfolio and shooting regularly. I am really grateful that I get to spend time doing something that I love; photography.

I don’t know about you, but another thing that makes me happy is cooking up some comfort food on a cold day. Sometimes I am like a big old bear. As soon as the weather turns cold, I a find myself craving old favourites like stew, chili, or homemade pasta. You would think I am preparing for a long winter of hibernation. With the skating season just beginning I will not be hibernating, but out getting my exercise doing something else that I love. Life is good!

While you are out and about preparing for the holidays, take some time to stop and enjoy a meal with your loved ones. We all get so busy that we lose sight of those around us but those simple times together are the moments that they will remember for years to come.

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

3lb.stewing beef
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 yellow waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
2 parsnips, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. Worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

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Directions:

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Place in slow cooker. Add the Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onion, garlic, mushrooms, thyme and bay leaf.

Whisk together the beef broth, wine, tomato paste and Worchestershire sauce. Stir the wet mixture into the slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low for 9-10 hours, until beef is tender and vegetables are cooked through. Skim off fat.

Whisk flour in 1/4 cup water until smooth, stir into the slow cooker. Turn the heat to high, cover and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20-30 minutes.

Remove Bay leaf and thyme sprigs and serve.

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Starting a Healthy 2014 with Brussels Sprouts and Steak Stir Fry

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When I look back on 2013 I think of the wonderful memories we had while traveling in British Columbia and Seattle. I loved the west coast so much I am going back next week for another visit. I also spent time in 2013 learning food styling at the culinary institute at George Brown College.

2013 was also a good year for my blog. I had more than 6300 visitors from 87 countries throughout the year. The most popular post of the year was Adventures in Baking Ukrainian Easter Bread-Paska.

Writing a blog is a labour of love. I love sharing my adventures with my readers. I also love pushing myself to try new foods and to develop my culinary skills. I love styling and photographing the dishes when they are done. It is great fun creating a mood or a style that matches the dish and makes it look irresistible.

Most of all, I love the new friends that I have made while writing this blog. I really enjoy reading other people’s stories. I read dozens of blogs every week to catch up on the news and to see what everyone is cooking. In 2013 my favourite blogs included Hold the Gluten Please, Cooking in Sens, Anna Shortcakes, Apt 2B Baking Co., and Baking with Sibella.

I hope you continue to visit in 2014 while I cook up a mixture of healthy recipes, decadent baked goods and culinary adventures.

This stir fry of brussels sprouts with steak and carrots makes a healthy meal for families on the go. It is quick and easy but it is chock full of flavour. I know some of you are thinking that brussels sprouts do not have flavour. Well, I can tell you honestly that I did not like brussels sprouts when I was younger. I think it must have been because I had only tasted sprouts that had been boiled until they tasted like bland little balls of boiled cabbage.

A few years ago a friend made me some oven roasted sprouts and I was shocked at how good they tasted. They were slightly crunchy and full of sweet flavour. Now I enjoy them by roasting, sautéing them, stir frying them or steaming them.

Did you know that brussels sprouts have been found to contain high amounts of sulforaphane which reduces your risk of cancer and other properties that lower your cholesterol? These little balls of goodness hold some of the same attributes that are found in kale and other green leafy vegetables. Brussels sprouts can be delicious and good for you at the same time.

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. oyster sauce
3 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 lb. brussels sprouts, halved
8 oz. flank or skirt steak, thinly sliced against the grain
Kosher salt
4 scallions, whites chopped, greens sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tbsp. chopped peeled ginger
2 medium carrots, peeled, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 sweet orange or red pepper, sliced thinly
Basmati rice (for serving)

Directions:

Whisk oyster sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl; set sauce aside.

Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brussels sprouts and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; wipe out skillet.

Season steak with salt. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in same skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add steak in a single layer; cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until nearly cooked through, about 30 seconds. Add to brussels sprouts.

Heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil in same skillet. Add scallion whites, garlic, and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute, adjusting heat as needed. Add carrots and peppers and cook, tossing occasionally, until carrots are slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

Return brussels sprouts and steak to skillet and add reserved sauce. Cook, tossing occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes. Serve with basmati rice and garnish with scallion greens.

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Recipe from Epicurious Dinner Rush Magazine

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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I have mentioned things that make me smile throughout my posts but today I thought I would share a list of some of my favourites. These are some things or places that I enjoy. I hope you enjoy some of them too.

Listening to this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2VCwBzGdPM

Wonderful cake props

http://www.allantiqueglass.com/pedestal-cake-stands/

A photographer whose work I admire

http://www.clarebarboza.com/index2.php#/home/

The pot that I cannot live without

http://www.epicureshop.ca/store/pc/Le-Creuset-Brasier-10p421.htm

Toronto’s best little pie shop

http://www.wandaspieinthesky.com/about_wanda.html

Another blog that I enjoy

http://backroadjournal.wordpress.com/

Where to find the best market in Provence

http://www.provenceweb.fr/e/vaucluse/lourmari/lourmari.htm

A great reference book for cooking like a chef

http://books.google.ca/books/about/Complete_Techniques.html?id=HOKJA21UVxIC&redir_esc=y

A great family movie for a long weekend

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicentennial_Man_(film)

Algonquin park

Algonquin Park

Wonderful carrot cake

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Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large ripe banana, mashed
½ cup low-fat yogurt
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
2 cups grated carrots
2/3 cup raisins
½ cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
2/3 cup icing sugar
1/3 cup light cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp. low-fat milk or water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch Bundt pan with cooking oil.

For the cake, beat the oil and granulated sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating the mixture well (it may look curdled). Add the banana, carrots, raisins, pineapple and yogurt. Stir until everything is well combined.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl, mixing well. Add to the carrot mixture and stir just until everything `is combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack and then invert the cake onto a serving plate.

For the icing, beat the cream cheese, icing sugar and milk in a bowl or food processor until smooth. Drizzle over cake.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes

Make Ahead: Keep for up to 3 days well wrapped, or freeze for up to 2 weeks.
Serves 16

 

Recipe from The Complete Light Kitchen by Rose Reisman

Let Them Eat Quiche-Gerard’s Mustard Tart

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I am continuing with my Culinary Arts classes at George Brown College.  Since the beginning of the program we have mastered sauces, stocks, roasting, poaching, and even a little baking.  What at first appeared overwhelming during the first few weeks, has now become routine.

The Chef takes the time each week to demonstrate the correct way to prepare the evening’s menu. He shows us everything from the correct way to chop, julienne, sauté, roast and poach to how to bake.  After we watch him demonstrate he lets us taste the results so we have a baseline on the texture and the flavours. Once we have tasted the meal we return to our workstations to try to replicate the dish ourselves. This comes with success most of the time.

So far my dishes have turned out to be a reasonable imitation of what the chef created with the exception of a crabmeat quiche. The recipe provided for the crust was not at all like the pastry crusts any of us had made at home.  In fact it was so different none of my group had success in getting a tender crust for our quiche. My pastry crust was as hard as a rock and as flavourless as paper. I took one taste and quickly sent it to the garbage bin.

When I think if quiche I think of times that I have spent in France. Some of my favourite memories are of meals where French cooks and chefs have taken simple flavours and fresh ingredients and combined them to create memorable dishes. Somehow my attempt at quiche was memorable, but for the wrong reason.

In order to master this part of the course and learn to make quiche like a French cook I decided to try a different recipe. I found these from one of my favourite authors, Dorie Greenspan who writes recipes that are complete and consistent.  I knew if I followed the pastry crust recipe carefully it would turn out as it should.

Gerard’s Mustard Tart is a carrot and leek quiche with Dijon mustard added for a punch of French flavour. I found the recipe for the pastry crust by Dorie on Epicurious.com and the tart recipe in her cookbook called Around My French Table which is a must have book for anyone who enjoys cooking French cuisine.

This quiche would be a nice entre for a spring brunch or lunch.

Carrot-and-leek-quiche

Gerard’s Mustard Tart

Ingredients:
3 carrots, trimmed and peeled
3 thin leeks, white and light green parts only, cut lengthwise in half and washed
2 rosemary sprigs
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons crème fraîche or 6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 9- to 9 1/2-inch tart shell-(Recipe for pastry crust below)

Directions:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Cut the carrots and leeks into slender batons or sticks: First cut the carrots lengthwise in half, then place the halves cut side down on the cutting board and cut crosswise in half or cut into chunks about 3 inches long. Cut the pieces into 1/8- to ¼-inch-thick matchsticks. If your carrots were fat and you think your matchsticks don’t look svelte enough, cut them lengthwise in half. Cut the leeks in the same way.
Fit a steamer basket into a saucepan. Pour in enough water to come almost up to the steamer, cover, and bring to a boil. Drop the carrots, leeks, and 1 rosemary sprig into the basket, cover, and steam until the vegetables are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain the vegetables and pat them dry; discard the rosemary sprig.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together with the crème fraîche or heavy cream. Add the mustard, season with salt and white pepper — mustard has a tendency to be salty, so proceed accordingly, and whisk to blend. Taste and see if you want to add a little more of one or the other mustards.
Put the tart pan on the lined baking sheet and pour the filling into the crust. Arrange the vegetables over the filling — they can go in any which way, but they’re attractive arranged in spokes coming out from the center of the tart. Top with the remaining rosemary sprig and give the vegetables a sprinkling of salt and a couple of turns of the peppermill.
Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, or until it is uniformly puffed and lightly browned here and there and a knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and let it rest for 5 minutes before removing the sides of the pan.
Recipe from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Quiche-Pastry Crust

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 tsp. cold water
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Directions:
Blend flour, salt, and sugar in processor. Add butter; using on/off turns, process until coarse meal forms. Whisk 1 egg and 1 teaspoon cold water in small bowl; add to flour mixture. Using on/off turns, process just until moist clumps form. Transfer to work surface and knead gently until dough comes together, about 4 turns. Form into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.
Do ahead: Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
Butter 9 1/2-inch round fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer dough to pan, pressing onto bottom and up sides of pan; trim any excess dough. Chill 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter large square of foil and press, butter side down, onto crust. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Using fork, pierce bottom of crust all over (about 10 times). Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Brush lightly with egg white. Cool.
Do ahead: Crust can be baked 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Quiche Crust Recipe by Dorie Greenspan from Epicurious.com

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!

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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.

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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

Winter Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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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

Ingredients:

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
Salt

Directions:

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

Risotto Primavera-a taste of Spring

It’s Saturday morning and the end of a long week. I usually spend my weekends cooking and writing and shooting photos. I will spend some time doing research and finding the right recipe for the evening meal or blog entry. Once it has all come together as a plan, I head out to my local markets to shop for the freshest ingredients.

I am very lucky to live in a neighbourhood that is full of great markets, cheese shops, butchers and fruit stands. Often, I can get whatever I need at the local merchants. In summer we have a farmers’ market in the park where we can get locally grown organic produce and baked goods.

All of this is in the heart of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto.

I have spent the last month taking you on a tour of Italy and writing about regional Italian cuisine. I have really enjoyed making all of the dishes that I featured because I love Italian food for its simplicity and great flavours. Italian cooking is all about the fresh ingredients. I also loved reliving my travels through Italy by sharing those stories. I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have.

My last entry in the series is Risotto Primavaera adapted from a new cookbook called The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. The book contains wonderful traditional recipes and great photos of the Tuscan region. Because I used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock it makes a very tasty vegetarian and gluten-free dish. Cooking the peas in the wine and stock made them slightly mushy but full of flavour. In fact, the flavours were so well- balanced and delicious the leftovers were just as wonderful as they were on the first day.

Risotto Primavera

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup fresh or frozen peas
3 large carrots, peeled
1 bunch of asparagus
5 ½ cups vegetable stock
½ cup white wine
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. butter
½ cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Directions

Break the asparagus stems where they naturally snap and steam or roast them until cooked but still crunchy.

Slice carrots in diagonal medallions about ¼ inch thick and steam them until cook but still crunchy.

In a large saucepan, heat the stock and wine to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer and add peas.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 6 quart pot over medium heat. Add rice and onion and sauté couple of minutes , stirring to coat and brown the rice.
Add 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Gradually ladle in the stock one ladle a t a time allowing the rice the rice to absorb the liquid as you stir. Keep stirring and ladling in the rest of the liquid and peas until the rice is done, about 20 minutes.
Add 1 tbsp. butter and stir.
Remove from heat and add the zest and lemon juice and Parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve rice immediately in large shallow bowls with vegetables surrounding the rice.

Recipe adapted from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes