June 28, 2011

Luscious Red Rhubarb

I love rhubarb. I love it love it love it. I really wish we had a patch of rhubarb in our garden, but until we redo our yard, there is no point. I wouldn’t want to have it then dig it back up. Rhubarb doesn’t take too lightly to being moved and it takes a few years before you can start picking it. Until then I have to suffice with what I find at the market.

A few neighbours have it in their gardens and I have yet to muss up the courage to ask if I could take a bunch. I don’t think they use it as it often goes to seed. Whenever The Honey sees me shaking my head he says ‘It’s only rhubarb!’ exasperated with my love affair. I grew up with a monster patch of rhubarb in our garden and missed it when we moved. Every summer, until I was sixteen, would see me pulling out a bunch of stalks and sitting either in the grass with friends or on the back porch munching away. Did I mention I love rhubarb?

I have a big stack of rhubarb recipes and every summer I make my way through a bunch, deciding whether or not it’s worthy of keeping. And every summer I stew some. It’s great for breakfast, on vanilla yogurt or ice cream, or topped up with some crumble and warmed up.

Stewed Rhubarb    Makes 4 servings     (Five Roses)
2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp grated orange rind
¼ cup water
Place rhubarb in a saucepan and sprinkle with sugar and orange rind. Add enough water to prevent burning (usually ¼ cup). Cover and simmer gently until rhubarb is soft, about 20-25 minutes. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.

June 22, 2011


Summer solstice was yesterday and I got thinking on my way home how much my mood has changed since March. Although my schedule at work has changed, it can’t be that since my long hours have me quite tired. There isn’t much free time as I’ve been quite busy since March and there is little time for myself. It can’t be the longer days as it’s been quite rainy all spring. Can’t be my student as I always have fabulous students (How lucky am I?!).

Maybe it’s the length of day. Even though it’s been raining so much, it is lighter in the morning and the evening.

Maybe it’s those lovely birds chirping whenever I’m out or near a window. They sound so happy, even when I silently curse them for waking me up at 5am.

Maybe it's the lovely smells of spring. My neighbour's lilacs greeted me every time I came home from the grocery store.

Maybe it’s the colours. I could see my front yard from blocks away and it looked so darn nice (due to lots of hard work). Everyone’s garden just seemed so much more colourful this year.


Maybe it’s all those goslings along the river. We’ve become pros over the years at when to expect them and figuring out how old the young are when we see a new set.

Or the ducklings; they always seem to arrive a few weeks later.

Maybe it’s all the fresh produce making an appearance at the markets. I wish I could eat it faster; it’s all so darn good.

Maybe it’s everything combined. Enjoying every minute because you just don’t know what you may see or what may happen.

June 19, 2011

Smoked Salmon Pasta

With warm weather here pasta can sometimes be a little heavy. As much as I love different tomato-based sauces, they can be a little to hearty in the summer. I’ve never been a fan of heavy cream sauces, especially in 30° heat. Having a pasta dish that is dressed simply can be better than one with a heavy sauce.

This stripped down pasta has flavour and is light enough for those summer nights when something beside salad is needed. The smoked salmon also classes up the pasta from plain Jane to spectacular.

*There are so many packaged smoked salmon products out there. Check with the store or distributor to make sure the process or liquid smoke used is gluten-free.

Smoked Salmon Pasta (from Style at Home October 2010)
Combine 400g cooked gluten free fettuccine with 2 tbs crispy fried capers and torn smoked salmon slices. Add dill, olive oil, lemon juice, grainy mustard, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Toss to coat and serve.

June 16, 2011

Salmon Burgers & Cheater Aioli

BBQ is upon us and like many others we picked up a new BBQ. Ours was on its last legs and last summer it did more scorching than cooking. You can BBQ almost anything; I’ve even heard of chocolate cake done on the BBQ. That’s too advanced for me. Sometimes our grill gets a little extravagant, but usually it’s quite simple.

I love these salmon patties from Metro. They don’t have many ingredients and more importantly, the salmon tastes great. They are also gluten-free.

I have rarely put these on a bun as I prefer to let the flavour shine on its own or complimented with something else. In summer months they are perfect on the BBQ and topped with some aioli. My aioli is a cheater version; nice and quick. I found this is a magazine many years ago and adopted it. It’s so easy to make and you can customize it with different herbs or adding more garlic or lemon, or possibly some herbed oil.

Aioli Sauce
5 minutes; 1 cup
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.
**Will keep for a week.

June 13, 2011

Pizza Crust

Natural Pantry makes a lot of great gluten-free goodies. They have a nice bread, brownies, plus they have bread and graham crackers crumbs. I recently tried their cabiatta buns and were nice with a burger.

My favourite though are their pizza crusts. They come plain so you can dress them up as you like. Or you can drizzle olive oil and top it with tomatoes for bruschetta. Once baked they have great texture; crunchy on the bottom and soft inside. Plus they taste good. An added bonus: they are the perfect size for one person.

Sold individually for  just over $2.

June 10, 2011

Asparagus Risotto

I made some risotto the other night as I was craving some. There is a bounty of asparagus at the markets and even some at the grocery stores is Ontario grown. Asparagus is so much better when it’s fresh, especially in the spring. It’s one of those signs that spring is here. I made enough and packed it full of veggies so it could either be a meal or a side dish.

The original recipe is Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Peas from Fieldof Greens and adapted it. I don’t like my peas cooked – straight out of the pod please – so I doubled the asparagus (yumm) and added extra carrots. On a cool rainy day it was perfect.

Asparagus Risotto
6 cups veggie stock with some tomato paste mixed in (keep warm)
Ground pepper
3 cups asparagus, cut into pieces
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs butter
½ medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
2 medium sized carrots, diced
A pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 1 tbs hot water
½ cup white wine
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbs chopped parsley
Cook the asparagus in boiling water for 1- 1½ mins then drain and set aside. In a large skillet heat the oil and butter and add the onion, salt and some pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until it softens. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add the rice and carrots and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. If you want to use saffron, add it. Begin adding the stock a cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb it before adding more. Keep stirring. When you have added 3 cups of the stock add the wine. Continue adding the stock and stirring. As you add the last of the stock add the asparagus and a few pinches of pepper. The risotto is ready when it is still a little saucy. Stir in the parmesan and sprinkle with parsley.

June 8, 2011

Westfest is going naked?

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, take a trip into Westboro and experience Westfest. This is a fun weekend for those who live in the area and for those who live afar. There is something for everyone and smiles abound throughout the day. The streets are closed off so shopkeepers can pull out their wares and fun events can take place. The whole neighbourhood is alive with fun and excitement.

There is entertainment galore the whole weekend. Friday is dedicated to showcasing Inuit performers, Saturday has a variety of Canadian performers (and my all time fave chick rocker Bif Naked), and Sunday has great local shows.

And don’t fret, there is plenty for those with gluten allergies. Fratelli’s has gluten-free pasta and The Works have burgers that are GF (just the meat patties without the bun – the veggie patties aren’t gf). Last year Juniper had a big BBQ out with some delicious smelling chicken. The Corner Bar and Grill has some staff that know about being GF and so can be helpful. Trio can also adjust your meal making it GF too. With all the great restaurants and cafes in Westboro, it would be hard to starve.

So grab your sunscreen and wallet in anticipation of those great deals you’re bound to find and have fun!

June 4, 2011


Many, many years ago a friend tried to get me to like cider. I wasn’t biting. I was a beer gal through and through. I like wine as well, but I’m (was) partial to micro-brew beer. There’s something about a small company that still cares about how their beer is made and what it’s made of. My favourites have always been Creemore and Muskoka, but alas, my body is no longer happy when I have them.

Once I began working on my health I thought that if I had to cut out beer, then maybe I’d switch to stout. Stout is known for being high in iron, and I’ve also heard, in calcium. There’s a saying that there is more iron in a glass (by glass I mean pint) of Guinness than a glass of milk. Whether that’s true or not I’m not sure, but I haven’t acquired a taste for it. Plus it’s not celiac friendly.

So I’ve been trying out different ciders, and it’s taking some time. With the first sip of my glass I’m always taken aback at how sweet it is. I’m not a fan of apple juice so it’s taking some time.

Now that the warm weather is here, restaurants have opened their patios and homeowners have put out the deck chairs alongside the BBQs. Along with that will be good times with friends and also times to relax after tending to the garden and it wouldn’t be the same without some kind of beverage in your hand (at least with my circle).

I’ve been sampling (oh, how rough life is!!!) and doing some digging and here is what I’ve found (and my opinion too).

Strongbow: Your run-of-the-mill cider. It’s good but there’s nothing special to it. The great thing is that it’s available almost anywhere, and if it’s a pub, well, it’s a sure thing that they’ll have it.

Stowford Press: This is nice and a tad different than Strongbow. It’s sweet but not overly so, and there’s no kick or bite afterwards. It’s smooth and thirst-quenching. I like it.

Woodchuck Draft Cider: I really like this and it’s perfect in every way. Unfortunately, it’s brewed in Vermont (picked it up on a trip to Syracuse) and not available in Canada.

Blackthorn: This cider is really, really sweet. My eyes close/wince at the shock of it. If you like the Grower’s Ciders found at the liquor stores, you’ll like this one as I find it very similar.

Gaymers: Overall this is a nice cider as it’s not too sweet. There is a tad of a yeast flavour that I’m not fond of.

Bulmers: This cider has a bit of a complex flavour that is a little hard to nail down. It’s sweet, but not too much; it’s yeasty, but not too much. This isn’t a favourite.

Magners: This is your typical cider but it has a stronger flavour and a bit of an aftertaste.  I’m not too keen on this one.

William: A nice little Canadian Cider that isn’t your crazy-North-American-sweet-type. This is a nice cider – not too sweet and not too dry, and not yeasty. It’s just right.

A proper cider should be naturally gluten-free as it is made of pressed apples. But double check before you indulge, products may be different in your region. The info added below is for the UK and Canada.

Weston & Sons: all ciders are gluten free and suitable for celiacs
Strongbow in Canada is gluten free
Gaymers cider is considered gluten free, but includes sugar from wheat. Under the EU coding, the levels are so low that it can be considered gluten free.
Woodchuck Cider (if you’re in or from the northern states) is gluten free
Bulmers Cider (and all Bulmers cider products) is gluten free

June 1, 2011

In the Beginning

A year and a half ago I came across an article in the local Metro daily about diet and health myths. One in particular caught my eye: A vegetarian diet is healthier; False. It continued in discussing how some people’s bodies simply cannot cope on a vegetarian diet. It struck a chord and for some reason seeing this was different.

Being a vegetarian for 15 years I’ve heard it all, especially from people who think they know better or think I deserve to hear their point of view. It was always annoying. I didn’t preach to them so why did they feel compelled to preach to me? I respected what they ate no matter how revolting I thought it was. Becoming a vegetarian was my choice, and the choice was made for me.

My mom was surprised during a recent conversation about my university days. She had always blamed the animal rights group I belonged to for my conversion. Understandably she was taken aback when I told her they actually had the reverse effect. If it hadn’t been for their constant pushing for adopting a vegetarian diet, I would have become a vegetarian much earlier. Reflecting on my meat-eating days of childhood, she could see it was inevitable. Ironically I left the animal rights group shortly after becoming a vegetarian as I had felt I no longer fit in.

As the months passed, the article popped into my head from time to time. Even though I’ve been dealing with allergies in one form or another since adulthood, I’ve never felt right. There were reasons for some (i.e. insomnia for my fatigue), but even at the healthiest point of my life I still didn’t feel healthy. This lacking has always been at the back of my mind.

Later in the fall I came across an article in Maclean’s by Anne Kingston. At first I passed by “We Love Butchers” in disgust thinking ‘I know what they do. I don’t need to read about it’. A few pages later I turned back. I pride myself on having an open mind and so I read it. It became the starting point of my conversion.

It was surprising to read about butchers who care not just about the meat people are putting on their plates, but also how the animal was raised. What the animal eats and how it spends its day directly relates to the quality and taste once its life ends. It made sense to me, but to hear it from butchers themselves was unexpected. The rise (or popularity) of Charcuterie and ‘nose-to-tail’ contradicted my ideas of meat going to waste due to the demand of prime or popular cuts. On one hand I’m pleased that every part of an animal is being used in an eco-conscious way, but on the other hand, the idea of eating specific parts makes me cringe. Flashback have occurred in the last year and a half of me opening my granny’s fridge and seeing a few pig’s feet sticking out or head cheese on a plate – a common occurrence. You would think I would have either gotten used to it or learnt to stop opening the fridge. Although I lovingly ate liverwurst thickly spread on rye, that was as weird as my meat got.

As I made my way through the article I found two vegetarians, then another two, then another. These were converts. Big time converts – 4 of the 5 were butchers. It was the fifth one, Tara Austen Weaver, who struck me the most. Weaver writes about moments in life and food on her blog Tea &Cookies. She had recently finished ‘The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman’s Romp Through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis’. A born and raised vegetarian Weaver is ordered to eat meat by her doctor for her health.

Some searching ensued on the web for these five converts where I found Tara’s blog and read her bio. I got myself a cup of tea and set myself down to read. Like a great book, Tea & Cookies is easy to read, interesting, enjoyable, and I found I could relate to some of her struggles. After some thought, I sent Tara an email and lucky for me she replied. We exchanged a few emails and with some of Tara’s comments, suggestions, and questions I was able to sort out some of my thoughts and set out a flexible path.

One decision I made was to incorporate meat into my life. At the time I didn’t know what this meant. I began experimenting, but wasn’t having much success – I had no idea what I was doing. I needed to educate myself and so I pulled out Joy and read about chicken and beef. Thankfully Rombauer provides plenty of background information. I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed; however, not intimidated. When I began eating fish 10 years ago it was similar; something totally new and going through a learning process. Ironically it’s not unlike working with food allergies. When The Butcher and the Vegetarian was released in Canada I bought it and began to read (a follow up post will eventually appear). I was amazed with Weaver’s gusto, even when she was feeling so ill. That gave me the courage to try.

The first step was to read up and learn something. The next was to venture to a butcher shop. I haven’t had any issues going into butcher shops in the past – to pick up some smoked bacon for the Honey’s weekend breakfast or for my students to see something front and centre during a food-themed week. It’s never felt odd because I wasn’t there for me. But this time it was for me. I’d be up close and personal to a variety of meat.

Rhonda at Saslove’s agreed to show me the ropes. She listened to my concerns then began showing me through the store. We started off on the right foot with some laughter and I instantly felt at ease and could ask anything that came to mind. When she asked what I wanted to know I responded with ‘Everything. I know absolutely nothing!’. Given how new I was to the world of meat, Rhonda explained things to me simply without making me feel dumb. She made suggestions on what to start out with (which cuts and/or meats) or items to avoid due to another allergen on my list. Never once did I feel pressured to become a meat-eater or ‘switch sides’.

My teacher gave me a new insight into meat and butchers themselves. I had always assumed they were 100% meat all the time and Rhonda mentioned she didn’t eat veal or lamb and didn’t understand the allure of it (then a colleague piped in that she loved it and why). As we began wrapping up my lesson Rhonda, again, put me at ease telling me to ask anytime I had questions and if I was really stuck, I could bring in my recipe and get some help. This made sense and I’m sure many customers that go through their doors take them up on the offer.

It’s been a year and a half and where has it led me? I’ve brought meat into my diet. My health has improved and while meat is not the sole reason, it’s one of them. Like much of my cooking, there are many new experiences, recipes, and opportunities. Much like salad, the possibilities are endless. While I still call myself a closet meat-eater, more people are becoming privy to my secret. I don’t consider myself a true omnivore yet, but meat has become a mainstay in my life. The experiment is not over in my eyes. I have purposely been limiting my options, partly so I can learn and partly out of fear. As 2011 continues so will the dishes that make their way through my kitchen.