It’s perfect weather for…

November 5, 2009


Now that I’ve been blogging for so long (over two years!), it’s becoming harder to post about my favourite fall comfort foods since, at least at this time of year, I like to rediscover my favourite fall dishes. It’s not until later in the autumn that fatigue sets in and I start to experiment.

So, in case you missed them the first time or in case you’re new here, today and tomorrow I’m featuring a glossary of my favourite fall food posts from the last two years.

On the roster today:

Savoury autumn favourites:
Double cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese
Zesty lasagna
Roasted Chicken broth for soup
Lemon parsnip soup
Sausages with onions, apples and Swiss cheese

What savoury recipe epitomizes autumn for you? Feel free to add links to your own posts and favourite sites so that it’s easy for us all to try out your ideas.

Comfort foods

September 10, 2009

Chicken ParmigianaAccording to a recent article in Marketing Daily, comfort foods choices differ depending on age.

While baby boomers say they find classic comfort foods such as braised meats, casseroles and ice cream soothing, Gen X-ers cite fast food hamburgers and burritos near the top of their lists. While this may seem discouraging, the good news is that Gen-Y-ers like burgers but also mention sushi and fruit as comfort foods.

For me, almost all food is comforting (seriously, I get quite uncomfortable at the first signs of hunger), but one of my favourite meal choices to massage away the tensions of a long day is veal Parmigiana with spaghetti and tomato sauce; homemade is ideal but I often settle quite happily for the take away version from Abruzzo Pizza. When I need some mental health food and I’m not actually hungry, coffee-flavoured Hagen Daz ice cream is my treat of choice.

I’m not quite a baby boomer by age (that age group cut off is 1964 and I was born in 1966) but as my comfort food choices attest, I’m more like the Boomers than the Gen X-ers. However, the fact that my choices are bought foods that I note by brand is distinctly like a Gen X-er. Confusing.

What foods do you find soothing? And, if you don’t mind sharing, what age group category best defines you?

My Wii fit is a mean girl

February 5, 2009


Image Credit:

Like many people, I took a break from dieting and my regular fitness regime over the holidays. While many people jumped on the resolution diet bandwagon on January 1st, I played it cool and got my fill of cold weather comfort food. Once satiated with mac and cheese, coconut curry and bacon laced concoctions of all kinds, I decided the time had come to return to my virtuous ways. (The actual truth is that my slim pants were just too tight to wear comfortably and I absolutely won’t wear my fat pants for more than a day or two.)

So, I started watching my diet and pulled out the Wii fit I got last summer. If you’ve used a Wii fit then you know that it’s interactive, with animated icons that give you instructions and other info. Although the Wii fit isn’t completely ignorant of the concept of positive reinforcement, it isn’t shy about pointing out your deficiencies either.

My first day back it informed me in rather large font (damn that large TV screen) that

• I had gained 6 pounds,
• it had been 153 days since I last used it (I wanted to shout that I’d played tennis all last fall but the machine just doesn’t listen!),
• that my Wii fit age was 3 years older than my chronological age,
• I have terrible balance.

Wow, I felt good about myself before my work out. Really great. Sheesh! I almost got off and got a cookie to make myself feel better!

While I know that I need to face the fact that I’m not in tip top shape, I’m not sure I’m the kind of person who does well with tough love. A little back-patting goes a long way to motivating me with my diet and fitness goals. What about you – do you need a drill sergeant or a cheerleader to help you stick to your fitness regime?

Peanut butter cravings

May 12, 2008

I have a confession to make and I want all of you to swear you won’t tell my husband Martin about what I’m going to say. Here’s my secret: I sometimes have overwhelming cravings for peanuts. The reason this information is classified as top secret personal beeswax is that my beloved hubby is deathly allergic to peanuts. As a result I feel very guilty about my love for this and all other legumes. It just seems like a betrayal to relish a food that could kill my man. Truthfully, a better spouse would be able to swear peanuts off in the name of loyalty, but, regrettably, peanut butter is stronger than I. The more I forbid myself, the more I crave the stuff. (Apparently it only takes one acre of peanuts to make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches and some days I think I could eat all 30,000 myself!)

The result of my peanut butter deprivation is deep-seeded guilt mingled with longing. In fact, When Martin is out of town I admit that I succumb to the occasional peanut butter binge followed by intensive, obsessive kitchen cleaning (the next peanut fest can happen in June when he goes diving in Newfoundland!). Likewise, when I travel alone for business, it isn’t the little bottles of booze in the mini bar that I find alluring. No, it’s the cocktail peanuts. I almost always eat them before I check out.

Since misery loves company, I was pleased to discover that I’m not alone. It turns out there’s a support group for people like me. It’s called the Peanut Butter Lover’s Club. And, in NYC (where they have at least one of everything) there’s an all peanut butter restaurant called Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop.

Is peanut butter your guilty pleasure? Or do crave something even more forbidden? Come on. Don’t be shy. You can tell me.

Canadian comfort food and wine

February 11, 2008

Canadian comfort foodI’d love to be able to split myself in two (or more) pieces. Besides the instant weight loss benefits, such a talent would allow me to be in two places, eating two different meals at once. Bliss! Since I can’t figure out how to make that plan work, I’ve discovered the next best thing: get someone I trust to go and eat one of the meals for me! Today, you can read about the wonderful eating experience my colleague Rob Heidenreich enjoyed while I was in Ottawa sampling the delectable wares at Beckta:


Canadian comfort food and wine
by guest blogger Rob Heidenreich

Canadian culinary tradition is alive and well in Beamsville where Malivoire Wine Company’s proprietor Martin Malivoire has initiated a series of themed culinary events designed to showcase his belief that wines are at their best when expertly paired with food.

The first of these events occurred Sunday the 27th of January and featured recipes culled from the traditions of French Canada to create a celebration of “comfort wines for comfort food.” The menu — which featured food chosen by Martin himself and wines selected by Malivoire’s aptly named winemaker Shiraz Mottiar — was rustic and uncomplicated and matched with accessible wines in $20 price range.

First up was Creton, a coarse-textured pork pâté similar to rillettes, served with the winery’s ”Ladybug” rosé. The rich and delicately spiced pork matched well with the dry, clean forward fruit offered up by the wine.

Next, we were served a creamy chowder of cod and potato alongside Malivoire’s 2006 Pinot Gris. In this instance, the wine seemed to do more for the food than the food for the wine. To its credit, the pinot gris was dry and crisp with a refreshing acidity that cut through the richness of the chowder, but any fruit this bottle possessed was unable to stand up to the soup.

The main course was a classic French Canadian comfort food Cipaille (a layered, slowly cooked meat pie) served with Feves au Lard (sweetened baked beans) and a savoury, spiced rhubarb compote (see photo taken by Tim Yao above). This course was perfect cold-weather food; the kind of sweet and hearty meal that warms the belly and brings colour back to chilled cheeks. Two wines were poured to accompany this course: a ’05 Cab/Merlot and the ’05 Gamay. Neither wine disappointed. Without being particularly nuanced, the Cab/Merlot blend exhibited classic vanilla-oak and dark berry Bordeaux flavours and a sweetness that was accentuated by the food.

But the highlight of the meal was found in the Gamay. Described by Mr. Mottiar as “the purest expression of the Beamsville terroir” this wine released a full, complex nose of strawberry, raspberry and vanilla, making for a more substantial wine than one would expect from Gamay grapes. Mr. Mottiar claims that Gamay is the “quintessential Canadian red” and that Malivoire’s example is “the best in Canada and perhaps the world.” While this statement is clearly up for debate, those who are used to Beaujolais-style wines should try this much different expression of the Gamay grape.

Our French Canadian meal ended with maple syrup pie and butter tarts made from a Malivoire-family recipe served with tea and coffee.

The culinary history of Canada is not a long one, but as long as there are people here who are passionate about the quality of the food and wine we’re able to produce, it will be one day. Martin Malivoire and his staff at the winery deserve kudos for offering these events to those willing to make the trip to wine country.

Check out Dana’s romantic dinner from Montreal menu at

Have a stew-pendous weekend!

January 18, 2008

stewThere’s something wonderfully comforting about the aroma of a simmering pot of stew on the stove. Beyond the soothing psychological benefits of stewing, simmered dishes can be a lifesaver for busy people since they require very little last minute preparation, often use pantry staples and can be reheated when you need them most.

Almost every culture has a repertoire of stews and, no matter what these recipes contain, almost all of them follow the same blueprint for success. Visit www.toptentable for a basic stew recipe that epitomizes the classic stewing method as well as for a few of my other recipes you can try this weekend and freeze for later.)

Ready to give stewing a try? Use these tips to make your next stewing effort a delicious success:

1. Choose less tender cuts of beef such as shoulder, rump, sirloin tip, inside round or chuck.

2. Meat for stewing needs to be well-trimmed of gristle and fat before it’s cut into evenly sized cubes no larger than 2-in (5-cm).

3. Puréed vegetables such as potato, tomato or celeriac can be added to the stew for thickness and to add nutrients and fibre.

4. You need enough liquid to cover the meat entirely but not so much that the meat is lost in the pan.

5. Pan juices should be thick and full-bodied in a good stew. If the meat becomes tender before this happens. Strain off some of the juices, thicken with a little extra flour and cook in a separate saucepan, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Return to stewing pan.

The ultimate comfort food

January 16, 2008

Moms have been pleasing their families by making scratch mac and cheese for decades. And since the late 1930s when Kraft first started making packaged macaroni and cheese, many moms have served make-do versions on busy nights when they lacked the necessary time to make the real thing. With generations of us having grown up eating these cheesy pots of noodles, macaroni and cheese has become if not the singular dish that epitomizes comfort food, one of the top 10.

I think my version is one of the best — B is your mystery letter for today. Not only is it supremely cheesy and smooth, but this mac and cheese can be customized to suit your own definition of macaroni and cheese. For those who grew up on the packaged stuff, it can be served creamy and slightly fluid from the cooking pot. And, for those who crave the old school, Mom’s kitchen variety, this version can be topped with buttery crumbs and baked until the sauce penetrates the noodles and a golden crust forms. Either way, this mac and cheese is sublimely delicious and iconically orange!

For more classic and inspiring pasta recipes, check out Ruth Daniel’s Presto Pasta Night, a Friday feature in her Once Upon a Feast Blog.

Double Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

3 cups (750 mL) dry macaroni noodles
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1/4 cup (50 mL) very finely chopped or coarsely grated onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp (2 m L) pepper
1/2 tsp (1 mL) nutmeg
1 tbsp (15 mL) all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
1 pkg (250 g) cold pack Cheddar cheese
1 cup (250 mL) shredded aged Cheddar cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil Add the macaroni and cook according to package directions. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a deep skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, pepper and nutmeg. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the onion mixture and blend well. Add a splash of the milk and blend until smooth.

Gradually add remaining milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Break up the cold pack cheese and add it a little at a time to the milk mixture until completely incorporated. Gradually add the grated cheese, stirring well between additions. When all the cheese is incorporated into the sauce, remove pan from heat.

Blend the macaroni into the sauce mixture, stirring until evenly coated. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Variation: For baked Mac and Cheese, transfer the macaroni mixture to to a buttered 8-cup (2L) casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Toss 1 cup (250 mL) fresh bread crumbs with 2 tbsp (30 mL) each melted butter and chopped fresh parsley. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the casserole. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Cook once, eat twice: Double this recipe and freeze one half as a casserole for another time. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking, covered in foil, for about 40 minutes or until heated through. Broil until browned on top.

Text and recipe excerpted from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favorite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

See me preparing this dish on Daytime Toronto: