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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Hour - Hot Toddy

Is this a cocktail or is it medicine?  Many cocktails were created to be medicinal and a Hot Toddy is often said to "cure" a cold or flu.  Speaking from personal experience I can say it does relieve cold symptoms!  

The heat of the drink can clear sinuses and, along with the honey, ease a sore throat.  The lemon is good for vitamin C, and the bourbon just makes you feel better in general before helping you get to sleep.

This drink couldn't be easier, so even someone weak from a cold can handle the recipe. 

Simply stir bourbon, lemon juice and honey with hot water until the honey melts, and drink while relaxing. 

Hot toddies are sometimes made with other whiskey, rum or even brandy. You can use whichever you  prefer or have on hand. Personally, I love the sweetness of bourbon in this drink. 

Here's my recipe but feel free to adjust to your own taste:

2 oz bourbon
1 tablespoon honey
1 oz lemon juice
1/2  cup hot water (just below boiling)

Stir together all ingredients in a large mug until the honey is melted.  Top with a slice of lemon if desired. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Skor Apple Dip

This is an incredibly easy 3-ingredient dish that will wow guests at any potluck or holiday gathering. 

It doesn't seem like much - just cream cheese, caramel and crushed skor bars.  But when you combine them and refrigerate overnight, it becomes a tangy, sweet and crunchy dip for apple slices. 

In a class dish or pie plate, spread the cream cheese into a thick layer. 

Cover the cheese layer with caramel.

Spread into an even layer over the cream cheese. 

Crush the Skor bars into small crumbs by placing them in a plastic freezer bag and pounding with a meat mallet or heavy pan. 

Spread the crumbled Skor bits over the dip, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The chocolate on the bottom will start to meld into the caramel a bit, but the top will stay crunchy.

Serve with sliced apples for dipping.  You could even try dipping pretzels or ladyfingers.

Believe me, people will love this!

Here's the (simple) recipe:

340 gram tub spreadable plain cream cheese
250 gram tub old fashioned caramel sauce (found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store in the produce aisle)
191 gram package mini Skor bars or 5 full size Skor bars, smashed into small pieces
1 lemon
6-8 apples for serving, sliced

Spread the cream cheese in a thick layer in a glass baking dish or pie plate. 

Spread the caramel sauce over the cream cheese
Spread the Skor pieces over the caramel layer
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 24 hours
Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a large bowl and add a cup of water.
Slice the apples and dip the slices in the lemon water to prevent browning
Serve the dip surrounded by apple slices


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mexican Tortilla Soup

Mexican Tortilla Soup

This is the second time I've made tortilla soup on this blog.  My previous recipe uses tomatoes, but this one has a clear broth flavoured with chipotle peppers in adobo and cilantro.

chicken broth

It starts with a broth made from whole chicken legs, onions and garlic and adds a few beef bones for extra meaty flavour.

fried tortillas

While the broth is simmering, fry two whole tortillas and 4 tortillas cut into strips. 

chipotle cilantro puree

After simmering for an hour, the chicken is shredded.  Chipotles, cilantro, onion and crumbled fried tortillas are pureed and added to the broth.

green broth

The broth takes on a greenish colour with the puree added in.  The shredded chicken goes back into the soup and I added some corn as well. 

garnishes - avocado, chopped cilantro and shredded cheese

Once the soup is warmed through, place the garnishes in the bowl - avocado, chopped cilantro and shredded cheese.

Tortilla Soup

Ladle the hot soup over the garnishes and top with fried tortilla strips. 

This soup is slightly spicy, hearty and warming. It makes a fantastic winter dinner. 

Here's the recipe, adapted slightly from Mark Bittman's Tortilla Soup recipe in the New York Times. 

4 large chicken legs
2 meaty beef bones (optional)
1 medium onion, skin on, quartered
1 whole head garlic, halved, skin on
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 corn tortillas
2 chipotles in adobo
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup frozen corn (optional)
shredded cheese
diced avocado


Place chicken legs, beef bones, garlic and 3/4 of onion in a large pot. Cover with water, about 10 cups. 

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.  Cook for about an hour. 

Strain the broth through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter.  Set chicken aside to cool.  At this point you can also chill the broth to let the fat rise to the surface. 

Meanwhile, slice 4 tortillas into strips. Heat oil in a pan and cook 2 whole tortillas until light brown and crisp, about 1 minute per side. Remove tortillas and drain on paper towels.  Add tortilla strips to oil in pan and toss until brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Drain strips on paper towels. 

Add the chipotles, 1/4 cup cilantro, the remaining 1/4 onion and a teaspoon of salt to a blender.  Crumble in the two whole, fried tortillas and add 2 cups of the broth.  Puree until smooth.

Remove the chicken from the bones and shred the meat. 

When ready to serve, skim the fat from the chicken broth and pour into a pot to reheat.  Add the chipotle mixture and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes. 

Add the corn and chicken and bring back to a simmer to warm through.  Season with salt to taste. 

Add avocado, cheese and cilantro to serving bowls and pour soup over top.  Sprinkle fried tortilla strips over the top and add more cheese if desired.  


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Happy Hour: The Sherman / Doctor Strange Cocktail

This post comes from Matt, the Beer Baron.  Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @geekcanuck

We seem to be living in the Golden Age of geekdom, where even lesser known characters from the comic books of my youth are being given the full-on blockbuster treatment. Case in point: Doctor Strange, the Marvel Universe’s own sorcerer supreme, created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko, whose brilliant, creative and often trippy style of art was a perfect fit for both the time and the good doctor’s strange, interdimensional adventures.

Flash forward to 2016 and the Doctor Strange movie boasts a cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, etc.) that betters that of most Oscar-bait movies and stunning visuals that still honour Ditko’s awesomeness. Clearly, it is a good time to be a geek. To celebrate, I wanted to find a cocktail that would be worthy of Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum (aka his magical residence for you non-geeks out there) is in New York, so my first idea was a Manhattan, but that didn’t quite have the flair of Doctor Strange (or Benedict Cumberbatch). However, it did lead me to a variation of a Manhattan called a Sherman, whose recipe comes by way of the Old Waldorf Astoria Hotel (opened in New York in 1893 and demolished in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building, which is suitably cool) and contains absinthe (which seemed suitably trippy).

Without further ado (and geekiness), here is our slight variation of a Sherman cocktail, rechristened The Doctor Strange cocktail, which turned out to be just as awesome as the movie:

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce sweet vermouth 

3 dashes absinthe

3 dashes orange bitters 

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnished with a lemon twist

Yes, that is my normal shot glass and yes, I’ve clearly leaned in to my geekiness. 
Most Sherman cocktail recipes call for rye whiskey or leave it up to you to choose between rye and bourbon. The Clockwatching Tart and I developed a crush on bourbon during our trips to Kentucky, so this was an easy decision to make. 

One of the many wonderful benefits of living with a good cook is the fact that the cupboards often contain many different types of alcohol. My new slogan: “Booze: It’s not just for cooking anymore!”

Absinthe smells and tastes like black licorice / anise but it isn’t as overwhelming as I might have expected. That said, it is still there to round out the flavours and not dominate them, so go easy. I used a tiny little salt spoon to make sure I didn’t overdo it.

The craft beer revolution has been in full swing for quite some time now, but the craft cocktail craze is relatively more recent (and much to our delight). Our favourite craft beer bar now boasts a fantastic cocktail menu as well and a relatively local distillery, Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers of Beamsville, Ontario, has a display of different bitters at the local LCBO. Good times all around.

The lemon twist isn’t just to look cool, the actual twisting is what releases the oils, which adds both aromatics and flavour to finish off the cocktail.

In the end, both The Doctor Strange (the cocktail) and Doctor Strange (the movie) get perfect scores of 4-out-of-4, as all four people at our little cocktail-party-turned-movie night loved both. Long may the Golden Age of geekdom continue!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Beer Baron - Trick or Treat with Big Rig Brewing

Big Rig Tales from the Patch craft beer

The Beer Baron is back! This post comes from Matt and you can find him on Twitter & Instagram @geekcanuck

I’m normally not crazy about pumpkin beers that come out at this time of year, as they tend to just be ales overwhelmed by pumpkin pie spices. However, when I saw that Big Rig Brewing’s Tales from the Patch was billed as a “spiced pumpkin porter”, I couldn’t resist. After all, my love of darker beers -- particularly stouts and porters -- is well documented.

I decided to have it with my Thanksgiving dinner alongside the Clockwatching Tart’s amazing spatchcocked turkey and was immediately intrigued and impressed. The maltier, more robust backbone of the porter stood up to the pumpkin spices well and the mouthfeel was silky smooth and beguiling. It was even better than advertised and a quick check back to the can revealed that it wasn’t just a spiced porter, but a spiced MILK porter, which uses lactose (aka milk sugar) to impart a lovely, milky smoothness.

Big Rig Tales from the Patch craft beer

Clearly, I needed to talk to the brewmaster responsible.

“It’s become a tradition that started when I was still working at a brewery out west. Every year, I’d make a different pumpkin beer for my wife, so I’ve tried quite a few variations. I’m happy to say she likes this one,” says Big Rig Brewery brewmaster and co-owner Lon Ladell, who was kind enough to answer my geeky questions about his beer.

According to Lon, the idea behind Tales from the Patch was to create a beer that emulated the flavors of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, hence the lactose.

“Porter is a style of beer that already lends itself to some of the flavours that we wanted. We used crystal malt to give it a bit of a sweet, caramel kind of note and then added some chocolate and biscuit malt to give it that kind of graham cracker crust layer,” says Lon.

As for the spices and the pumpkin itself, Lon and the Big Rig team didn’t treat it much differently than anyone else making homemade pumpkin pie.

pumpkin spice beer

“We used a couple of local farms. We go and actually pick some of the pumpkins ourselves and then buy the rest. It was a lot of fun. Once we got them, we broke them apart and scooped out all the innards, cut them into four or five pieces, then we put cinnamon, cloves, allspice and brown sugar on them and then roast them in our ovens at one of our restaurants. It’s exactly how you make pumpkin pie,” says Lon.

Between the roasted maltiness of the porter, the spices used on the pumpkin and the finishing touch of the lactose, Tales from the Patch is nicely balanced, unique, and -- most of all -- delicious. It definitely goes down as an absolute Halloween treat and something I hope to find again next year (even if Lon has to brew a different pumpkin beer for his wife).


P.S. If you happen to get a little caramel square this Halloween, you could do worse things than pairing it with Tales from the Patch, assuming you can track some down at the LCBO.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

Fresh cranberry sauce was one of the first things I learned how to make and it was my contribution to our family Thanksgiving dinner for years.  

And it's SO easy! There's no need to buy canned or pre-made sauce.  All you need is a $2.00 bag of fresh cranberries, some sugar and some water to make a tasty sauce.  I added a few extra flavours but they're totally optional. 


This recipe makes a lot of cranberry sauce, but it keeps for months in the fridge or freezer so use the whole bag.

When you cook the cranberries you'll hear them pop.  Cranberries are full of pectin so the sauce will thicken up as it cools.  

You can make this ahead and chill it for Thanksgiving day!

Cranberry Sauce

Here's the recipe: 

340 g (12 oz) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed well
1 cup water
3/4 cup - 1 cup sugar 
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (optional)

Place the cranberries, water, sugar, ginger and zest in a medium pot. Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes until cranberries pop.  Remove from heat and cool.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Road Trip - Grand Rapids

Back in 2012 we visited Grand Rapids, Michigan for the first time and we loved it!  At the time it was the #1 beer city in the USA.  Since it is less than 4 hours from home, we had to check it out.

This summer, circumstances conspired to get us back there again.  We wanted to see Dolly Parton on tour but the dates close to home were on weeknights meaning booking a day off work so we could stay overnight rather than drive 2 hours home after a concert.  But she was playing Grand Rapids on a Saturday night, so we could make a mini-vacation out of it! 

Some things have changed a lot since we were last in Grand Rapids.  It's still a beautiful, clean, vibrant city, but there are so many new breweries, bars and restaurants.  The hotel we stayed in had only been open for two weeks!  We visited lots of new places and some old favourites from our last trip.  Here are the highlights:

We stayed at the brand-new Homewood Suites downtown.  The hotel is nice and the location is fabulous.  All the rooms have a full kitchen.  The building is a converted furniture warehouse and has some odd features, like interior windows that face into empty hallways, and a second-floor lobby that can be hard to find from the street.  But we really enjoyed the room and location.  We could walk anywhere downtown easily. 

But the first thing we did after checking in was hop in the car and head to Siciliano's Market for local craft beer and cider for our hotel room fridge.  Then it was off to Greyline Brewing Co. for our first drinks of the day.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Happy Hour Two for One: Negroni & Boulevardier

I'm fascinated by the world of cocktails, both classic and all the new craft cocktails being created in bars popping up all over. 

You can't read much about cocktails without coming across the Negroni, a beloved, bitter Italian aperitif. 

The first time I tasted a Negroni I was astonished that anyone would choose to drink something so bitter. I'd describe it as bracingly bitter. But, strangely, the Negroni grows on you.  And so I bought a beautiful bottle of Campari so I could have Negronis any time. 

But once you have a bottle of Campari you have to find other things to do with it. You can make a simple Campari and soda, or you can break out the bourbon and make a Boulevardier.

I prefer to buy the liquor with the most whimsical cap. 
Both the Negroni and the Boulevardier share the same basic recipe, but one is made with gin and the other with bourbon.  As you might imagine, the Boulevardier tastes sweeter and richer, while the Negroni is more crisp and sharp.  

I garnished my Negroni with the traditional orange peel but added a cherry to the Boulevardier to complement the bourbon. 

I have to admit a slight preference for the Boulevardier. The sweet depth of the bourbon offsets the bitterness of the Campari in a way I enjoy.  But in the heat of summer it's nice to have a classic Negroni for a refreshing change of pace. 

Here are the recipes, cheers!

The Negroni

1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Red (sweet) vermouth

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel. 

The Boulevardier

1/2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Red (sweet) vermouth

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry or twist of orange peel. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pasta Salad with Prosciutto and Melon

I adore melon and prosciutto together.  Especially now when ripe melons are available at the markets. I also love a good pasta salad - cold pasta with vinaigrette and veggies is one of my favourite meals. 

So I decided to combine these loves in a pasta salad with prosciutto and melon. 

I received a Galia melon in my CSA box.  It's a small green melon that tastes similar to honeydew.  This salad would also be great with cantaloupe.  

I used medium shells for the pasta.  Orecchiette would also be great here.  Any short pasta will do but I like the way the shells mimic the shape of the scoops of melon.

I think this is the first time my melon baller has been used for melon!  You could certainly just dice the melon but I like the little half-balls.

For the dressing, I made a quick white wine vinaigrette right in the pasta pot after cooking and draining the pasta. This made it a one-pot meal, but you can make all the components separately if you prefer.  

I mixed the prosciutto into the salad, but it has a tendency to clump together.  I'd advise adding the proscuitto to each individual salad once it's plated so it keeps it's vibrant colour and stays separate.

The result was a wonderful, cool, refreshing, salad that made a great summer dinner.  I ate it for lunch the next day too and it kept surprisingly well.  

Here's the recipe:

For the salad:
500 grams (1 lb) medium pasta shells, orecchiette, penne or pasta of your choice
1 small Galia melon or half a medium cantaloupe or honeydew melon
1 sprig of basil leaves, sliced if large
1 green onion, thinly sliced
125 grams (1/4 lb) thinly sliced prosciutto
125 grams (1/4 lb) diced or crumbled feta or ricotta salata

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.
  2. Meanwhile, halve the melon, remove the seeds, and use a melon baller to scrape out balls or scoops of melon. Alternatively, peel and dice the melon.
  3. In the empty pasta pot or a large bowl, combine the vinegar and red pepper flakes.  Whisk in oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Add the pasta to the dressing and toss well to combine.  Gently add the melon, basil and green onion.  
  5. Plate the salad in individual servings and top each serving with torn slices of prosciutto and cheese.  Sprinkle generously with black pepper to serve.