1

Orange Cranberry Bread

I’m easily overwhelmed.

I don’t always hold up under pressure.

I only assert myself when pushed, and even then, it’s not nearly enough.

And I have this nasty habit of not believing in myself.

That’s all to say that I really don’t have what it takes to be a good chef.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I rushed back and forth between my stovetop and workstation at school the other night, all under the critical eye of the chef who would eventually be judging my performance on a scale of one to 100.

“It’ll be fun,” I kept telling friends and family about my starting chef school this fall.

Fun isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe that first night. Terrifying is a bit more apt.

I was yelled at for using the wrong sink. I chopped too much onion and not enough leek. I spilled water on the gas burner and burned my finger on the oven rack. I stuttered when talking to the chef. And I got a $40 parking ticket at the end of it.

I couldn’t sleep later that night – just kept tossing and turning as I ran though every single screw-up, obsessing over how I could have done things better or whether or not the chef thinks I’m just another spastic 20-something going to chef school to “discover herself.”

It wasn’t a total flop, though. I made my chicken stock, then my soup, cleaned up my station and went home at the end of it. I learned what sink to use and where not to park. I learned that yelling “hot behind” when you’re carrying a hot pot isn’t nearly as embarrassing as it sounds, and that as much as I may want to pack it up and go home halfway through, I can stick it out and do just fine.

This experience is testing me, and will continue to test me over the next two years. It’s exposing my weaknesses, questioning my talents and thrusting me out of my comfort zone, into a competitive arena of people who are faster and better than me.

I’m not okay with it, but I’m going to have to adapt. I’ll always be the person who falls behind for stopping to help another student out, and I’ll probably never achieve the perfect brunoise. But I will learn to trust myself, and to keep my cool under pressure.

And at the very least, I’ll learn to cook with confidence.

Here’s one of my grandmother’s recipes that I’ve adapted, inspired by this amazing orange cranberry scone I had when I was in Ottawa last month with my mom and dad. And if you’d like to check out another of my grandmother’s recipes, check out my most recent post on Clean Eating magazine’s new blog!

Orange Cranberry Bread

My grandmother’s original recipe called for raisins instead of cranberries, so feel free to experiment with a variety of dried fruit, or try swapping out the orange for a large lemon.

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium orange, zested and juiced
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups white all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan and dust with flour.

2. In a 1-cup measure, add orange zest and juice. Add enough boiling water to fill cup. Transfer to a small bowl and add cranberries.

3. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Stir in egg and vanilla.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and stir until just combined; do not over-mix. Fold in orange-cranberry mixture.

5. Transfer to prepared loaf pan, smoothing top with back of spoon. Bake in centre of oven for 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in centre.

Enjoy!

3

Vanilla Peach Scones

I can’t remember exactly what was going through my mind when I clicked the “register” button on my computer’s screen.

Some combination of excitement, nervousness and sheer, unadulterated fear, no doubt.

I felt that same frenzied conglomeration of emotion welling up in my throat yesterday afternoon, as I carefully fastened the last button on my newly acquired chef’s jacket, my fingers trembling with trepidation.

I didn’t know what to expect when my eyes met in the mirror – to be honest, I thought I’d look like a phony playing dress-up.

Except as I stepped back and took a full stare at myself, from the crisp white jacket to my carefully tied-back mop of hair, I felt something a little different. I felt like me.

In two weeks, I start my chef training certificate, a two-year program I’ll take on evenings and weekends between work. It’s expensive, time-consuming and in a terribly inconvenient location, but I don’t care. Because at the end of it, I get to be a chef.

It’s been two years since the idea first popped into my head – in fact, just as I’d filled out my application to Prince Edward Island’s Culinary Institute of Canada, I was offered my job here in Toronto. Needless to say, my application was tossed in the garbage bin as I packed for the move.

I thought that working for a food magazine would settle my desire to go to chef school, but if anything, it made it stronger. My passion for food developed into full-on obsession, and I’ve been rolling up my sleeves to develop recipes in my own kitchen ever since.

I wish I could say that I have some sort of plan – that after graduating, I want to work for a bakeshop and bake cupcakes all day, but there’s no such thing. Maybe I will decide that cooking is what I’m meant to do, maybe I’ll hate it. Maybe I’ll just be a better home cook, or maybe I’ll turn out to be a real culinary genius. Either way, I owe it to myself to give this a shot, to open myself up to failure and accept that I have a whole lot left to learn.

This recipe is the result of some over-zealous grocery shopping – I spotted a sale on fresh Ontario peaches and stocked up, not realizing that my boyfriend hates the stone-fruit, leaving me to devour all four pounds of peaches before they start to get mushy. So, armed with a basket of the yellow fruit and a pantry full of baking goodies, I set out to make the best peach scone I’ve ever had. With speckles of vanilla bean, flaky pastry and chunks of juicy peaches, these scones are just that. And with whole-wheat flour, a sprinkling of flaxseeds and very little sugar, they’re a perfect healthy start to my day.



Vanilla Peach Scones
Makes 6 scones.

The trick to baking with peaches is to blanche them first – this allows you to peel away the skin, revealing supple, juicy flesh ready to stir into your favorite pancakes, muffins or scones!

INGREDIENTS:

1 large peach (or 2 small peaches)
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground flaxseeds
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
3/4 cup half-n-half
1 tsp almond extract
1 vanilla bean pod (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Slivered almonds, for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice and arrange near stovetop.

2. Turn peach upside-down and cut a shallow ‘x’ mark into bottom of skin; do not puncture flesh. Add peach to pot and boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Carefully remove from pot and immediately transfer to ice water. When cool enough to handle, peel peach by lifting skin by the ‘x’ mark. Dice peach and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, flaxseeds and salt. With the large holes of a box grater, grate butter into flour mixture, occasionally tossing flour over shards of butter. With your fingers, work butter into flour mixture by rubbing together until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add peach and toss gently to coat.

4. Split vanilla bean and run the tip of your knife through center to extract beans. In a small bowl, whisk half-n-half, almond extract and vanilla beans. Form a well in center of flour mixture and add half-n-half mixture to well. With a rubber spatula, gently mix until just combined.

5. Lightly dust a cutting board with flour. Turn dough out onto flour and gently form into a ball. (TIP: Do not knead or overmix; the key to flaky scones is to work the dough as little as possible). Flatten ball into a 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick circle. Cut into six equal pieces.

6. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush each with egg. Top with almonds and bake in center of oven for 16 to 18 minutes, until golden. Let cool on sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

Enjoy!

2

Raspberry Lemonade Ice Pops

I once joked with a friend of mine who’s also from the Maritimes that if we eventually move back East, we’ll be so desperate to shake our hardened Toronto ways that we’ll drastically overcompensate by harassing poor bedraggled homeless people, begging to hear their stories and thrusting unsolicited toonies in their fists.

It’s a constant struggle, every time someone in scraggly clothes begs for spare change or even just an ear to hear their troubles. One of the first things I learned when I moved here was to avoid eye contact, but nine out of ten times I slip up. More often than not, it ends with me emptying the contents of my change purse into their hands or winding down my car window to hand them a five dollar bill.

Except for today. Today I was all Toronto.

I was walking home from the bookstore this afternoon when a girl stopped me to ask for some change. She said she lost her bus pass and needed money to get back to Mississauga.

I took one look at her slightly grubby t-shirt and baggy pants and made a mental assessment that she was probably lying. I said I had no cash on me and walked away.

But as I started to walk up the steps to my apartment, my mind started racing with all of the possibilities. What if she wasn’t lying? What if she really was stuck in Toronto for the night with no place to go?

I was still wrestling with myself as I switched the lock on my apartment door and slipped my shoes off, arguing that I can’t give into every person who bums, that I’ll just be taken advantage of. But no more than five minutes later, I found myself rummaging through my wallet for change and running out the door.

I ran back to the spot where she approached me, but she was gone. I walked up and down the street, scoured the nearby subway station in case she’d gone in there, but she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

Maybe she was trying to take advantage of me. Maybe they can sniff me out as vulnerable.

But that won’t stop me from opening my wallet the next time someone asks for change. Because I’d rather end my day a few bucks poorer than lose sight of who I am, and most of all, where I’m from.

Raspberry Lemonade Ice Pops
Makes 4 to 6 pops.

For a minty twist, boil one sprig fresh mint with the lemon mixture, or chop three or four sprigs and stir them into the lemon-yogurt mixture before you freeze the pops.

Tools

measuring cups and spoons
2 small saucepans
wooden spoon
small bowls
4- to 6-pop ice pop molds
wooden popsicle sticks

Ingredients

1 pint fresh raspberries
2 1/2 tbsp sugar, divided
Juice 2 lemons
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt, divided

Instructions

1. In a small saucepan, combine raspberries, 3/4 cup water and 1 1/2 tbsp sugar. Heat on medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. In a separate small saucepan, combine lemon juice, 3/4 cup water and 1 tbsp sugar. Heat on medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced by half, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Remove raspberry and lemon mixtures from heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to separate small bowls and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

4. To raspberry mixture, add 1/2 cup yogurt and stir to combine. To lemon mixture, add remaining 1/2 cup yogurt and stir to combine. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

5. Layer raspberry and lemon mixture in pop molds. Insert sticks 3/4 way into pops. Freeze until hardened, about 5 hours.

2

Coffee-Spiced Sirloin with Sweet Bell Peppers

I recently tried to sign up for a cooking class called ‘Beef and Butter.’

By now, half of you are either salivating over your keyboards or scratching your heads in bewilderment. It all comes down to your cooking style, I guess.

I like to describe my style as simple. You won’t find extensive spices and foreign pastes lurking in my cupboards. If by some odd chance you do happen to come across one or two, I can almost guarantee you they’ve never been opened.

I like to eat simple things, so in turn, my most treasured culinary brainchilds consist of pretty basic ingredients. I like sea salt and sweet paprika, good quality canola oil and, most of all, butter.

There’s nothing quite like cooking with butter. The way it dances around your skillet with the slightest touch of heat, or how it morphs into this alluringly fragrant foam just seconds before melting into a rich and flavorful sauce.

Now imagine lifting a thick, juicy strip of sirloin out of its paper wrapping, and ever so gently resting it in that oozing buttery melt. The satisfying sizzle as the flesh immediately starts to form an unforgettably irresistible crust, the savory aroma infusing your kitchen with the smells of home.

That, for those of you who questioned the desirability of a class dedicated to “just” beef and butter, is why I was so sorely disappointed when the class was later cancelled.

I won’t lie – I moped pretty hard at the thought of missing out on my chance to spend an entire Saturday browning beef in butter. But after a while, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Class or no class, I was going to sear.

I’d been toying in my head the powerful combination of a good quality sirloin and the warm, rich notes of coffee for quite some time. When a recipe developer I work with pitched a steak dish with a coffee marinade a while ago, I stupidly questioned her judgement. Coffee and steak? Sounded like a grisly combo. And then I tried it.

It’s hard to describe exactly how this works, but it’s like every ambrosial grind of coffee just soaks into the tender, grainy flesh of beef, accenting its earthy composure in a way that no spice or seasoning can. The coffee is subtle, yet it makes its presence well known to your greedy little taste buds with every melt-in-your-mouth bite.

I really like the idea of a coffee rub. There’s something about the rough graininess of coffee that makes you want to slather it over a porous length of steak, working it into the flesh with your fingers.

I wanted to add a nice mix of classic spices to balance the strength of the coffee, so I opted for a blend of sweet paprika, chile powder and a touch of cayenne for heat, and just a dash of cinnamon for warmth. You can always play around with the amounts according to your own taste, and try adding in some new spices for a twist.


Coffee–Spiced Sirloin With Sweet Bell Peppers
Serves 4.

Sautéed bell peppers bring out the sweetness in this tender, juicy meat. I like to serve it with a fresh strawberry salad and some roasted baby potatoes.

Tools

Small bowl
Measuring spoons
Grill pan or skillet
Baking sheet
Small nonstick skillet
Wooden spoon

Ingredients

1 tbsp fine-ground coffee grinds
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 – 1 1/2 tsp chile powder (depending on taste)
1 tsp sea salt
3 – 4 grinds of fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Dash cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, divided
1 lb sirloin steak
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 each red, orange and yellow bell peppers, sliced

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a small bowl, combine coffee, paprika, chile powder, salt, black pepper, cayenne and cinnamon.

3. Melt 2 tsp butter and rub all over steak. Rub spice mixture onto all sides of steak.

4. Heat a large grill pan or skillet on medium-high. Add butter and heat until melted. Add steak and sear, turning once, until a deep crust forms, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

5. Transfer steak to a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until steak is cooked to desired doneness, 15 to 20 minutes for medium-well.

6. Meanwhile, in a small nonstick skillet, heat oil on medium. Add bell peppers and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender and skins are slightly blackened, 10 to 12 minutes.

7. Remove steak from oven. Let rest for 5 minutes. To serve, top steak with bell peppers.

Enjoy!
0

Blue Cheese–Stuffed Pork Chops

I’ve been told more than once that moving is among one of the most stressful events of your lifetime, right up there with death, disease and divorce. And after having moved five times in as many years, I can tell you with confidence this is true.

Aside from all of the technical stresses – as if stuffing all your belongings in boxes isn’t enough – you’ve still got to come to terms with the fact that you are uprooting. It doesn’t matter if you’re only moving from one apartment to another in the same city. You’re still going against instinct, taking yourself from the place you can trust to a new place, a place where you don’t know how many steps it takes to reach the bathroom or exactly where the light switch is on the wall.

It was amongst this chaos not long ago that I realized I was beginning to crack. My belongings, all of the physical stuff I associate with who I am, were out of sight, rendered insignificant under layers of cardboard and bubble wrap. I hadn’t really slept in weeks, and my pots and pans had been packed up long ago, making it impossible to sauté my troubles away.

The move happened, and here I am, settled into my nice new apartment. But I still feel off-kilter, out of sorts, and a little bit depressed.

Because I think it’s during these periods in life, when everything you thought was stable is shaking, that you start to feel disembodied from yourself.

The simplest things, like bending to tie your shoes or making a pot of coffee, seem foreign and complicated. You look at yourself in the mirror and see someone you only sort of recognize. You’ve been stirred out of your comfort zone, and once that happens, it takes a long, long time to find it again. And even then, it can’t be the same as it was.

But sometimes, even with all of this madness swirling around you, beautiful things happen. You start to learn a little more about yourself. You learn to gauge your strengths and weaknesses. You figure out who you can really trust. Things that seemed significant in your life are no longer so. Your priorities change, and so do you.

And sometimes, you learn to take the old and turn it into something new. You learn that, say, if you happen to have an inexplicable surplus of both pork chops and blue cheese in your fridge just three days before you move, all you have to do is put them together, and a powerful union is formed.

Blue Cheese–Stuffed Pork Chops
Serves 4.

The rich, elegant taste of salty blue cheese champions anything you put on the table, so try and pair your pork chops with simple, mild sides, such as boiled new potatoes and fresh green beans.

Tools

Small bowl
Wooden spoon
Sharp paring knife
Large oven-proof skillet
Metal tongs

Ingredients

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, plus additional for garnish
4 thick boneless pork chops
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, as desired
1 tbsp canola oil

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a small bowl, combine butter and blue cheese.

3. With a sharp knife, carefully cut a lengthwise incision in each pork chop to form a deep pocket.

4. Spoon blue cheese mixture into each pocket, dividing evenly. Gently press pocket together to seal. Season both sides of pork with salt and pepper.

5. Heat a large oven-proof skillet on medium-high. Add oil, swirling to coat. Add pork chops and cook, turning once, until golden brown and a nice crust forms, 6 to 8 minutes.

6. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until pork is cooked through and juices run clear, 15 to 20 minutes. If desired, garnish with additional blue cheese and drizzle with any pan juices.

Enjoy!

3

Peach & Blueberry Baked Oatmeal


I’m in the process of moving right now, which means every spare moment I get between work and sleep is spent enveloping my belongings in bubble wrap and stuffing them into various boxes strewn across my apartment.

It also means purging – something that a lot of people embrace when it comes time to move. I’ll admit decluttering can be a bit freeing. By getting rid of the crap you carry around, you’re admitting that you’ve moved on. You’re accepting that you’re no longer the person you were when you kept these things. It’s almost like a physical reminder that you’ve changed.

But for the most part, I find this emotionally tiring. I attach emotions to these obscure objects – a fleeting memory or feeling is associated with every receipt or grubby pair of shoes found lurking in my closet.

This shouldn’t be difficult for me by now: this will be my sixth move in as many years. But it doesn’t get any easier, the act of dismantling my home, stuffing it in a truck and transporting it somewhere new.

This is an exciting move, though, one of new beginnings. For the past year, I’ve been holed up in a tiny basement apartment in a dreary suburb outside of Toronto. If you’ve ever had the displeasure of living in a basement before, then you know what I mean when I say I’ve been suffering from the “basement effect.” Quite simply it’s the result of living two feet from the furnace, underground, with two prison-size windows providing the only measly bit of natural light available.

So obviously I am extremely excited that in less than three weeks, I will be above ground, within the actual city limits, in a beautiful apartment with real windows in a real Toronto neighborhood.

But at the moment, that doesn’t make packing any easier.

I go in bouts, where one of my different packing styles (hoarder or purger) takes over, and I’m either saving every little do-dad and dust bunny, or I’m considering chucking my passport because I haven’t used it in two years.

All of this packing and purging is taking a toll on my eating habits, as I haven’t had a whole lot of time to prepare balanced meals, and, quite frankly, most of my pots and pans are in boxes right now. As a result, I’ve been eating a whole lot of oatmeal. First it was straight-up oats and milk, then I quickly tired of that and added some cinnamon and chopped apple. That was a hit for week or two, and now I’ve moved on to this beautiful and oh-so-sweet baked version.

It’s extremely easy to make, and will keep in the fridge for a week, so you’ll always have it on hand when you need an energy boost (or, in my case, dinner).

Peach & Blueberry Baked Oatmeal
Makes 12 servings.

Tools

Large rectangle baking dish
Medium mixing bowl
Measuring cup and spoons
Whisk

Ingredients

Olive oil cooking spray
3 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp ground flaxseeds
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup chopped fresh, jarred/canned or frozen (thawed) peach slices, drained
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed
2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp pure maple syrup, plus additional for garnish
1 tsp vanilla yogurt for garnish

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mist a large rectangle baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, flaxseeds, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Transfer to dish and shake to distribute evenly. Top with peaches and blueberries. In bowl, whisk milk, eggs, vanilla and maple syrup until combined. Pour over top of oatmeal mixture, gently hitting bottom of dish on your counter a few times so milk distributes into oats.

3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden and edges begin to brown. Let cool. To serve, cut into squares and top with additional maple syrup and yogurt, or serve in a bowl with milk and sugar.

Enjoy!

2

Melt Your Heart Blueberry Oat Muffins

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when your parents stop being just your parents, and become something a little bit more. If you’re anything like me, it happened around the same time that you started seeing little bits of Mom and Dad in your everyday motions and movements, in the little things that ultimately make you who you are.

As funny as it may sound, I first noticing these niggling bits of my parents in me when I adopted my cat, Suzie. I would, and still do, run back home after leaving for work to make sure – for the umpteenth time – that I did indeed turn off my hair straightener, lock the door, or put away all the sharp knives. Yes, it’s part OCD, but it’s also done out of love, because I know I’d never forgive myself if something were to happen to my little furry baby.

And because of this, I’ve now gained a new respect for my mom, who countless times throughout my childhood, would turn the car around not long after we left home so she could make sure her curling iron was off. It was annoying and frustrating at the time, but now I feel like it’s a common ground, shared between two very close friends.

My dad and I are two and the same – from the way we bob up and down when we walk to the way we always reach behind the product we want on a store shelf to select the second package in the row. It’s in the way we obsessively fixate on the most benign things, to the point where we bite our nails nervously while standing in front of our dressers every morning trying to decide what to wear. I’ll admit, these were once things that I teased my dad for doing – my teenage self likely made the occasional snarky comment when he refused to grab the first box of rice on the shelf at the supermarket. But now it’s just another quirk that I share with my dad, another reason to laugh when we catch each other doing one of these ridiculous things.

Now, where I once saw two authority figures in my life, I see two people whose words I covet and whose arms I seek the deepest of comfort in. They’re my parents, yes, but they’re also my friends, the people who I know I can always depend on, who see through any facade I try to present and always demand the truth from me.

And I think the real defining moment, when the relationship really started to blossom into what we have today, was when I realized that this dependence and comfort isn’t one-sided. I’m starting to see that just as much as I long for and need my mom and dad, they also lean on me, and depend on me, just like close friends.

I found this recipe in my grandmother’s archive of goodies. I’ve long been a fan of blueberry muffins, and the combination of gooey rolled oats and creamy buttermilk bring these muffins to the top of the recipe pile in my kitchen.

Melt Your Heart Blueberry Oat Muffins
Makes about 12 muffins.

Tools

Medium and large mixing bowls
Whisk
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Rubber spatula
Muffin tins
Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup brown sugar or Sucanat
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and well drained

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a medium bowl, combine oats and buttermilk. Let stand until needed.

3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar until well combined. With a spoon, stir egg and butter into oat mixture and mix well. Add oat mixture to flour mixture all at once and stir until just moistened. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries; do not overmix.

4. Pour batter into greased muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 full. Bake on middle rack for 15 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Remove from oven and let cool in tin for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

1

Creamy Potato & Ham Soup

It’s been almost a year since I moved away from the East Coast to Toronto – a year that has been by far my most difficult, stressful and terrifying, but at the same time incredibly satisfying.

I’ve had a hard time remembering what my life was like before the move – from the layout of my third-floor Fredericton apartment to the events of the days leading up to the moment where I packed my life in a silver Honda Civic and left everything I knew behind.

I think part of me had blocked it out, to protect myself from getting homesick or feeling out of place in my new home. But lately, as the one year anniversary of my move approaches, snippets of my old life keep creeping in.

It happens unexpectedly, when I’m least prepared. Today it was the smell of an old sweater I hadn’t worn or washed since I moved, still carrying the floral scent of the dryer sheets I used to use.

Yesterday it was the aromatic chance encounter of fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh-made French bread – a heavenly pairing that will always make me think of the farmers’ market down the street from my old apartment.

Once it was a whiff of incense and the distinctive twist of a muscle that, when I closed my eyes, made me swear I was back in my old yoga studio on Fredericton’s sleepy Queen Street.

As I let these memories trickle their way into my consciousness, other things are edging their way back. I can finally remember the drive my mom and I made to move me to Ontario last March, which up until now was just a blur of random gas stations and candy wrappers. I can remember my first week at my new job – the heavy feeling in my stomach of both excitement and fear. And just this afternoon, I was able to fully recollect that moment after the taxi came to collect my mom, leaving me to walk back alone to the strange apartment that was to be my home.

It worried me when these memories first started coming back. I was afraid that it meant I was getting homesick or unhappy. But ultimately, I think somehow I’ve finally come to realize that my memories are not a series of unconnected dots to be filed away by year and forgotten, but rather a timeline of who I am and how I came to be here. These memories are something I should appreciate, because I owe them who I am today.

I decided to make a good, traditional East Coast potato soup after spotting a bag of PEI potatoes at the grocery store last week. I took them home, quickly released them from the familiar Cavendish logo bag, and took a good whiff. You might think all dirt smells the same, but I swear the minute those spuds hit my nose, I was home.

Creamy Potato & Ham Soup
Serves 6.

Tools

Large stockpot
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Slotted spoon
Blender
Small bowl

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 lb cooked ham, chopped
5 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
6 Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup table cream (18%), divided
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese for garnish, as desired
Chopped green onions for garnish, as desired

Instructions


1. In a large stockpot, heat oil on medium. Add garlic and onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and onion turns translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Add ham and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until any liquid released from ham is absorbed. Stir in 5 cups broth, cover and bring to a simmer. Add potatoes, cover and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

3. With a slotted spoon, remove 2 cups potatoes and transfer to a blender. Add 1/2 cup cream to blender and blend until smooth; mixture should be very thick and creamy. Scoop mixture into a small bowl and set aside. With slotted spoon, remove remaining potatoes from pot and transfer to blender. (TIP: If you want a chunkier soup, leave a cup or two of cubed potatoes in pot.) Add remaining 1/2 cup cream and blend until smooth.

4. Reduce heat to low, return all blended potatoes to pot and stir well to combine. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth and milk to reach desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper and cook (do not simmer or boil) until heated through. Top each serving with cheese and green onions, as desired.

Enjoy!

2

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Swiss Cheese Sauce

Hello, prosciutto. Where have you been all my life?

If, like I was until just recently, you are sheltered enough to have never encountered this most delectable of meats, let me explain.

Prosciutto is to ham what Parmesan is to cheddar, what clementines are to oranges, or what a thick, juicy AAA sirloin steak is to ground beef. It’s like once upon a time, someone just decided to take a slice of ham and cure it into heaven.

I’m talking about thin, salty slices of smoky, tingle-on-your-tongue pork that doesn’t need any dressing up or garnishing. Actually, one of my most memorable prosciutto experiences was the Jambon Buerre at a cafe called Bonjour Brioche in Toronto’s Leslieville. As the name suggests, it’s simply a baguette slathered in butter and topped with a generous stack of heavenly ham.

It’s hard to believe that up until just a few months ago, I had absolutely no idea what prosciutto was – if I’d ever heard the term, I likely associated it with some uppity cheese dish that wasn’t really my style. But no, there is nothing uppity about prosciutto. The total opposite, in fact, as the whole premise of its inception was to keep ham tasting fresher for longer by curing it with a mixture of salt and oil. Pretty simple, and incredibly tasty.

There really are no boundaries when it comes to prosciutto. You can even eat it right out of the package, if the mood strikes. You can put it on pizzas or sandwiches or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can use it to wrap other incredibly tasty foods, like I’ve done here. You can get a little carried away with all the prosciutto wrapping possibilities – I’ve seen it wrapped around everything from cheeses to mangoes. But my personal favourite way to cook with this Italian gift is to wrap it around chicken – it makes the perfect mouth-watering blanket for tender cuts of juicy chicken.

To get the maximum flavor, I sear my wrapped chicken breasts in a bit of oil to create a flavorful crust. This crust also helps lock in the juices for the next step, baking the chicken, to ensure every inch of the breast is cooked through while still maintaining the perfect tenderness.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Swiss Cheese Sauce
Serves 2.

Tools

Cutting board
Plastic wrap
Large stainless steel or cast iron skillet (not nonstick)
Measuring cups and spoons
Metal tongs
Baking sheet
Small saucepan
Whisk
Wooden spoon

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of visible fat
Pinch each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 slices prosciutto
2 tsp olive or canola oil
Olive oil cooking spray
1 to 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 slices Swiss cheese, torn into pieces (or about 1 cup shredded)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place 2 slices prosciutto horizontally, one higher than the other, on a cutting board and place chicken smooth side down over top of prosciutto. Fold prosciutto over chicken to wrap completely. Wrap each in plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes; this helps the prosciutto stick to the chicken.

3. In a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet, heat oil on medium-high. Once oil starts to ripple, add chicken and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 more minutes.

4. If using a cast iron or all-metal skillet (no rubber on handle), simply transfer skillet to oven. If your skillet has a rubber handle or is not oven-safe, line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Add chicken to sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

5. Meanwhile, prepare Swiss cheese sauce: In a small saucepan, melt butter on low heat. Gradually whisk in flour until thick and well combined. Add milk a little at a time, whisking well between additions, until smooth. Increase heat to medium-low and cook, whisking often, until bubbles start to form and mixture thickens; do not bring to a full boil. Stir in cheese and cook until melted and sauce is thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. To serve, drizzle Swiss cheese sauce over top of chicken.

TIP: This dish is great served with a hearty leafy salad, or if you feel like really indulging, I love it with a classic sticky risotto.

Enjoy!

0

Butter Tarts

My friend Emily once told me that there’s something to be said for subservience in a relationship.

My automatic reaction was to dismiss her. I’ve been raised to resist dependence, particularly on a boyfriend, and the idea of being subservient seemed, well, rather archaic.

But I keep coming back to this, the skill (yes, it’s a skill) that allows you to concede absolute control to someone else. I just can’t seem to do it – I can’t release my grip on the reins, even when I’m passing them over to someone I trust completely.

It’s taken me a while to come around to the idea that this is not always a redeeming quality. Sure, it’s great to be independent, but at some point, I’m going to have to let go.

This little problem of mine has been a constant handicap. For starters, the thought of going in a cab paralyzes me for the simple fact that I am nowhere near in control. Sadly enough, this also happens to apply to when my boyfriend, TJ, is driving.

My backseat driving is only the half of it. I get so bad that if TJ even tries to do something spontaneous (and dare I say, romantic), I panic. If I haven’t planned, mapped and predicted the day’s events, I can become a bit hysterical.

Which, I’m realizing, is not only affecting my own sanity and quality of life – it’s paying a pretty heavy toll on TJ, too. He can feel powerless, like he’s constantly sitting in the passenger’s seat of our relationship as I drive along as planned. Needless to say, this has caused issues.

So as much as it pains me (and that women’s studies degree I have lurking in my back closet), I am finally conceding that yes Emily, there is a lot to be said on mutual subservience in a relationship. And there certainly is a lot to be said on not just having trust, but actually showing it.

So let’s get talking.


Butter Tarts
Makes about 12 tarts.

Tools

Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Pastry blender
Fork
Plastic wrap
Muffin or tart tin
Cutting board
Circular cookie cutter
Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon

Ingredients

Pastry
5 1/4 cups pastry flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
3/4 cup all-vegetable shortening, chilled
1/2 cup ice water
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white sugar
Olive oil cooking spray

Filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 eggs

Instructions

In a large bowl, sift flour. With a pastry blender, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles pea-sized pellets. In a small bowl, combine water, salt and sugar until granules dissolve. Make a well in center of flour mixture and add water mixture all at once. With a fork, stir mixture until water is completely absorbed. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Mist a muffin or tart tin with cooking spray. On a flour-dusted board, roll out dough into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness. With a floured round cookie cutter or the rim of a glass (circle should be large enough for pastry to fit in tin cups), cut dough into circles and line tin with pastry; if desired, cup tart shells in the palm of a rounded hand to form into a flower shape before placing in tin. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter on medium-low. Add sugars, corn syrup, vinegar and vanilla. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly to prevent mixture from burning, until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in eggs, one at a time. Divide mixture among tart shells, filling each 3/4-full. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.