Braised Pork Stew

27 Jan

Because I just can’t stop buying cookbooks, Michael Smith’s latest, Family Meals, has appeared on my shelf. I’ve always liked Smith: he was my gateway into cooking fish for the first time and his recipes (while sometimes a bit short on the salt for my taste) never fail me. I like his philosophy that a recipe is simply somewhere to start, a thing to be played with, an idea upon which to expound. I feel the same way: when I come across a new recipe, I’ll generally leave the fundamentals alone but will alter things like seasoning and heat levels to suit my taste.

This particular book has some fantastic slow cooker recipes and quite a few vegetarian recipes that look enticing. I tried out the slow-cooked pork shoulder stew this weekend it’s a keeper. We added a few dashes of hot sauce to our bowls but kept it out of the main pot to avoid burning foodNURDling’s little tongue. It’s a simple recipe that doesn’t have a ton of ingredients. It’s hearty, filling and healthy. This recipe also makes a TON so you will definitely have leftovers. Cook once, eat many times. Works for me.

Serves 4


3lb pork shoulder, halved
salt & pepper
2 tb vegetable oil
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 ts dried thyme and/or rosemary
2 ts salt
7c water
1c white wine (or, if you don’t want to use alcohol, skip it and add 8 cups of water instead of splitting it)


1. Preheat your oven to 300F.
2. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan (a Dutch oven is perfect) to medium-high heat. Add the oil and watch for it become shimmery. Season the pork generously with salt & pepper and the two pieces of pork to the pan, searing on all sides until nicely browned.
3. Add in the celery, potatoes, carrots, onions, herbs, salt and liquid. Bring to a simmer. Cover with  a tightly-fitting lid and place in the oven for 3-4 hours.
4. Remove the pot from the oven. The pork will now be fork-tender; shred or cube the meat. Serve and enjoy!

Cheddar Cheese Ball in Everything Bagel Spice

6 Jan

Sometimes, ya just gotta throw a party and I did exactly that. An appetizer party, specifically. What inspired this? Mostly, the party issue of Bon Appetit. I vacillated wildly between wanting to host a huge shindig for everyone I know to having just a few people over for something fancy. I’ve done both and enjoy them equally, if differently. Eventually, I settled on a not-too-big appetizer party based on a couple of recipes from the BA magazine. The runaway hit of the dishes I made was the giant, creamy cheese ball coated in salty, savoury everything bagel spice. I doubled the original recipe – a good call considering how little was left at the end of the night. Because it was such a large ball o’ cheese, I found it was a lot easier to make a dome than a ball but with the original recipe, it should be much easier to shape. Also, I skipped the pancetta step for two reasons: 1. there were vegetarians coming to the party and I wanted them to be able to try this out and, 2. I had enough to do already, thank you very much. I have no doubt the pancetta is fantastic when included, but I was a busy girl.


2 oz pancetta, finely chopped
1⅓finely grated extra sharp cheddar
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tb unsalted butter, room temperature
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 ts Worcestershire sauce
2 ts black pepper
kosher salt
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 ts poppy seeds
1 ts sesame seeds, toasted


1. Crisp pancetta in a sauce pan over medium heat for roughly 5-8 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
2. Blend together (in a food processor, with beaters, whatever you’ve got) the cheddar, cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the green onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper.
3. Scrape the mixture into a small, plastic-lined bowl. Form into a ball and chill in the fridge until it’s firm. (3-12 hours)
4. Just before you are ready to serve, cook the garlic in a small pan over medium, stirring often, until crisp and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
5. Add the shallots to the pan and, like the garlic, cook until golden brown, which will take 5-8 minutes. Make sure you stir often. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
6. Mix the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, shallots & garlic in shallow dish and roll the cheese ball until it’s coated. Serve with crackers and eat too much!



24 Nov

This is one of my absolute favourite Belizean dishes to make. I first tried them years ago when J’s mom made them for dinner. Instantly hooked. As with many local specialties, everyone makes them just a bit differently and everyone claims their (or their mom’s) way is best. The basics, though: crunchy fried tortillas topped with shredded chicken or pork. The toppings and sauces are totally up to the cook: pickled onions, salsa verde, avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, green onion, sliced jalapeno, and cilantro are all popular options. We do ours with thinly sliced avocado, shredded chicken simmered in salsa verde, sour cream, green onion, cilantro and a bit of hot sauce. You can include or omit just about any of the ingredients listed above: it’s truly about your own personal taste. We usually roast a whole chicken so we have leftovers for the rest of the week and shred both wings, a thigh and a breast. (Tip: take the skin off and save it to add when you’re dressing the tortillas. You want it to be crispy.) You could also poach chicken breasts in spice-tinged water – salt, pepper and oregano would be a nice combo.

This recipe makes 10. Two of us can polish that off but we are very full afterward.


10 tostadas (or 10 tortillas, fried)
2 chicken breasts or equivalent, cooked & shredded
1 c salsa verde
2 avocados, sliced
salt & pepper
lime juice
3 green onions, sliced
1 handful cilantro, finely chopped
sour cream
hot sauce, optional


1. Warm up your tostadas in the oven at a low temp. They have a high oil content, so make sure you keep an eye on them ensuring they don’t burn.
2. Heat up the salsa in a sauce pan til it simmers. Add in the chicken and stir. Allow chicken to warm through, 5-8 minutes.
3. Divide the avocado slices evenly among the warmed tostadas then season with salt, pepper and lime juice. Layer on the chicken, sprinkle with green onions and cilantro. Top with dollops of sour cream and, if you wish, dabs of hot sauce.


Wicked Easy Fruit Muffins

11 Nov

Friday night used to be about heading out after working and having (at least one too many) drinks with friends, getting home sleepy and happy and then sleeping til 10am the next day. Now Friday night is about getting foodNURDling fed and to bed, making something for myself and, if I’m not too gassed, making muffins for our Saturday morning breakfast at 8am.  I’ve made a number of variations on the maple oatmeal muffins and wanted to test out something a little different…also, I was out of oatmeal. I did, however, have fruit and sour cream. I can make something of this, I figured! Since I had already planned to make cinnamon apple oatmeal in the slow cooker, I tossed blueberries into the muffin batter and the results were delish. You could use any fruit your little muffin-baking heart desires: apple, peach, raspberry, strawberry, etc. The results are fluffy and springy muffins on the inside with crisp tops that will be snarfled up by everyone who gets their paws on them.

Makes 12


2 c all-purpose flour
3 ts baking powder
1/2 ts baking soda
1/2 ts salt
1 ts cinnamon
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c sour cream
1/4 c butter, melted
1 c fruit (berries, peeled & chopped apples/peaches, etc.)


1. Preheat the oven to 400F and line your muffin tins with cups or butter.
2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour – cinnamon). In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients (sugar – butter).
3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the contents of the second bowl. You may find that the batter is a bit dry. If so, feel free to add a little milk or more sour cream. When everything is almost combined, add in your fruit and finish.
4. Spoon out the batter into the muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes.
5. Allow to cool 10 minutes and then dig in!

Photo: The aforementioned blueberry muffins. I may just have to have one before bed...

Eating With My Hands at Lamesa

23 Oct

Any chance I get, I love to eat my food with my hands. Bacon? I eat with my hands. Scrambled eggs? Piled on toast and eaten with my hands. I have been known to eat gooey, rich chocolate cake with my hands and no one can convince me otherwise that it doesn’t make for a more joyful experience. (You people and your cutlery-for-pizza ways? I do not understand you.) So when I was invited to take part in a kamayan dinner at Lamesa last night, I was genuinely excited. Sitting down at a table draped with banana leaves and eventually adorned with brightly coloured, intensely flavoured food is my idea of a great dinner. Every Sunday, Lamesa is offering this kamayan (translated, means “hand to mouth”) dinner for a very reasonable $40/person that would be great for everyone: a group of friends, a family, a date. Best to make reservations and to know that this is not a fast meal: the idea is to sit with those you care about to share and enjoy a meal together. It’s a Filipino tradition that the owners and chefs want to bring to our awesome city and I think it’s a fabulous addition. It’s a feast for the senses.

Refreshments in hand, our table watched (and drooled) while head chef Rudy Boquilla and chef de cuisine Joash Dy elegantly placed the four different sauces on top of the banana leaves. First was the bagoong caramel, a fermented shrimp paste, followed by a soy garlic puree, sawsawan gel and housemade hot sauce. The sawasan gel was a table fave: thick, sweet and salty, it was made with soy, vinegar and garlic. Every once in a while, I would find another little pocket of it hidden under rice and I’d swipe whatever bite of food I had in my fingers through it. They could bottle and sell this stuff.


Next to be served was a salad comprised of sour mango, arugula, radish and pretty heirloom carrots paired with mango chutney. This was followed by a sisig lettuce cup: iceberg lettuce piled high with chopped chicken, pork and beef cooked with chili, garlic and onions. Light and crunchy, these were light bites that helped to balance the rich meats that were to come.


In the middle of the table, chef Dy spread out generous heaps of garlic fried rice topped with crispy garlic bits. On top of the rice, mussels and clams cooked in a broth of coconut milk, ginger and garlic. In between the shellfish, smoked, boneless bangus (marinated milkfish) were artfully placed. The smokiness of the fish and the brininess of the shellfish were making our mouths water. Next to come was the hands-down winner of the night: the crispy chicken adobo wings. This is not to say that the kare kare oxtail (braised in a peanut garlic sauce) wasn’t succulent and beautiful, because it was; but, this chicken was incredible. Maybe the best fried chicken in the city. A grand statement, to be sure, but it has to be tasted to be believed.




The array: smoked fish, mussels, corn, oxtail, chicken adobo wings, rice, kale chip, pea shoots, lettuce cup and chicken tinola broth.


Halved calamansi, pickled egg and mango chutney.


Not to be left out were the grilled corn, bok choy, kale chips, sweet purple yam cornbread, pickled egg and fresh calamansi that dotted the table. To say this was an epic meal would almost do it a disservice. It was a fun meal. A balanced meal. An “I am so full but can’t stop eating” meal. An “oh my god, did you try this with that??” meal. A meal one does not soon forget. Check out Lamesa at 669 Queen St. W., just west of Bathurst. They will be putting on the kamayan dinners every Sunday night – don’t forget to make reservations!






Mexican-style Salad

30 Sep

In an attempt to make some healthier choices (I’m even back at the gym after a prolonged absence. Helllooooo, muscles I’d forgotten about!), I’ve been ransacking some cookbooks I haven’t opened in a while for inspiration. In the book Get Naked in the Kitchen, there is a pretty great recipe for a Mexican taco salad bowl. I made minor adjustments to the original to suit both my taste and what was in my cupboard. The end result had everything you could want in a healthy meal: it was filling, it was easy, it had lots of flavour, it was balanced, it came together in 25 minutes and it’s 100% adaptable. You can substitute the lemon juice for any vinegar, the brown rice for white or quinoa, the flavouring of the black beans or the black beans for another kind be it white, pinto, black-eyed peas…whatever you like. You could also throw in some tortilla chips for extra crunch. Give it a go!

Serves 2.


3-4 c greens (I used baby arugula)
2 tb olive oil + 2ts for beans
1 tb lemon juice
1 c brown rice, cooked
1 can black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1 garlic clove, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 ts cumin
1 ts chili powder
splash of water
1/2 sweet pepper, chopped
1 avocado
Salt & pepper
handful of cilantro, chopped


1. Cook the rice according to directions.
2. In the meantime, heat the 2ts of olive oil in a pan to a medium heat. Add in the garlic and onion and sauté until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.
3. Add in the beans, cumin, chili powder. Toss in salt & pepper to taste. Stir together and then add a couple of splashes of water to the pan. Turn up the heat and cook another 5-10 minutes until the water evaporates.
4. Slice the avocado in half. Remove the pit and cut the flesh into cubes. Season with salt, pepper & lemon or lime juice.
5. Toss greens and red pepper in a bowl with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Split evenly on two dishes, making a well in the middle.
6. Plate rice in the well among the greens and then top with beans, avocado, cilantro and hot sauce if you so choose.

How I Learned to Love the Garden

27 Aug

I have always appreciated food though, admittedly, I have learned to appreciate it on new levels in the last ten years. I’ve certainly always enjoyed eating and reaping the rewards of others’ hard work; now, I understand just how much work goes into getting that food to my hungry mouth.  It’s not like I wasn’t exposed to food production as a child: my dad maintained a wonderful garden in our backyard that had carrots, beets, tomatoes, peas, beans, chives, rhubarb, cucumber and whatever else he felt like planting (like the year he tried corn. I kept hoping for ghost baseball players to appear. Sadly, neither the corn nor the ghosts deigned to show). We also had cherry, pear and apricot trees along with a raspberry bush and grapevines. Homegrown fruits and veggies we did not lack. We also had a walnut tree but in the 20+ years we lived in our house, no one ate a single, solitary walnut. We’d find them on the ground with six tiny, squirrel bites taken out of them. Tree rats are the worst. What I lacked was the interest in cultivating them. My parents would send me into the yard to pick whatever was ripe at the time and I’d inevitably come back with about 50% of what needed to be picked. What can I say? I was more interested in something SUPER IMPORTANT like whether or not Zack and Kelly‘s eternal love would be torn asunder by the evil Jeff.

Fast forward to 2007. I am now living in an apartment with J and ruing the lack of outdoor space to grow my own food. We would buy basil plants that would, inevitably, wither and die in record time. We did see some success planting mint in my dad’s garden. So much success, in fact, that the mint spread over the next few months and by the following summer, was rather intrusively making its way into the rest of the garden. That was bolstering, though. “I can actually grow things,” I remarked as my dad looked on, happy I’d taken an interest in gardening but dismayed by the herb that was now embedded in the chives and beans and peas and…

Jump to 2012. J and I are house hunting. We come across a house with a slightly wild but charming front yard and an absolutely lovely backyard with lush, red cherry tomatoes. “This has potential,” I think to myself excitedly. The sight of those gorgeous tomatoes has stirred something inside me and I can imagine spending quiet afternoons planting and weeding and watering and enjoying the fruits of my labour. The day we took possession of the house, I went straight to the yard and plucked one of the tomatoes from the vine and popped it in my mouth. “That’s it. I’m growing everything I can back here.”

Next spring, my dad arrived at the house with tomato seed packets and a container with soil pods to get them started. I took a surprising amount of delight planting the little seeds and watching them grow into full blown…seedlings. My dad planted them in one of the gardens and I tended to those things like I tended to foodNURDling. By August we had fresh, plump cherry, Early Girl and beefsteak tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.


Emboldened by my success, I started to hatch plans for summer 2014. I planted beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, green, red and jalapeno peppers, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary and mint. When each ripened, I happily picked ALL of the fruits and vegetables and gave each to the foodNURDling. As he happily gobbled down cucumber and tomato slices, I called my mom:

“Mom! A thing I grew is eating a thing I grew!” I almost wanted to cry.

It was A Moment for me. Growing food for me and my family. This is how I learned to love my garden.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,256 other followers

%d bloggers like this: