August 31, 2006

Cooking Dinner - Shepherd's Pie

In general dinner is my favourite meal to prepare. That being said, it is much easier to get excited about doing that when you have the whole day to prepare and plan. We used to go out to eat quite a bit, but that is much more exciting when you live in the Toronto area instead of Windsor. There is only so much roadhouse food and pizza that one person can handle and it is just so darn unhealthy and costly.

This is my last week of vacation and I know my dinners during the school year will not be up to the same standards as those in the summer. My garden has been such a great inspiration, and the Food Network is helpful as well.
Yesterday I was watching the newer Christine Cushing show - I used to love Christine Cushing Live - and she had a great recipe for Shepherd's Pie. I know it is more of a Fall/Winter meal, but it just looked so good! I downloaded the recipe and made it my own (see below).

Here is some info about Shepherd's Pie that I was able to find:

"Shepherd's pie is a traditional British dish that consists of a bottom layer of minced (ground) lamb in gravy covered with mashed potato and (often) a layer of cheese. It is a favourite dish of institutional cooks keen on feeding large groups of people ... In North America, shepherd's pie is usually a layer of ground beef, a layer of corn and a layer of mashed potatoes. Peas are a common replacement for corn.
Quebec, this variant is called pate chinois "

Here is my recipe - adapted from Christine Cushing

Shepherd's Pie (4 large servings)

1 large Yukon Gold Potato - peeled and cut into chunks
2 large Sweet Potatoes - peeled and cut into chunks
1 T butter
1 t nutmeg
2T sour cream

1 T olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion - diced
1 clove garlic - minced
2 stalks celery - diced
2 carrots - diced
1t thyme
2t basil
1 c beef stock
1/2 c red wine
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Dijon mustard

1. Boil potatoes in salty water for about 10 minutes or until fork tender. Then drain and mash - adding sour cream, butter, nutmeg and S&P. Stir until desired consistency. Set aside.

2. Saute celery, garlic, carrots, and onion in the olive oil until softened - about 7 minutes. Add meat, breaking it apart until it is browned. Add thyme, basil, and S&P. Add stock and wine and stir. Add Worcestershire and Dijon and mix in. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer on low until the liquid is mostly evaporated - about 1/2 an hour.

3. Season the meat mixture with S&P and pour into a square baking dish. Spread the potatoes over top and cover the dish. Bake covered in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Take off the cover and bake for another 10 minutes - until the top is golden and the mixture is bubbling.

August 28, 2006

The Second Best Meal of My Life - Perigee

I was looking through my saved emails today and found the following. I am so glad that I wrote this down and kept it. It is from June 26, 2005 - it was just before we moved from the GTA and I am so glad that we were able to go to a restaurant like this while we were still living there.

Why is it the second best meal? Well, just wait until I post about my experience at The French Laundry in Napa Valley, CA.

For more information you can go to the website

"On Saturday night we went to Perigee in the Distillery District (and we are now disappointed that we did not discover that area sooner). The restaurant itself seats 32 and all tables look onto the open kitchen. While eating there you can choose from a 5, 6, or 7 course blind tasting menu - with or without wine pairings. This is called omakase dining. A whole table of 6 people could order this and none would get the same dish. It is one of those special occasion restaurants because it can be a bit pricey but it was easily the best food I have ever tasted. We ordered the 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings but ended up getting 6 courses, lucky us!

Breads - Polenta Flat Bread, Caraway Buns, Multigrain Bread with fresh churned butter, olive oil and duck liver mousse.

Amuse Bouche - Bryn - Smoked Salmon on an Apple Slaw
Danielle - Miniature Skewer of Venison with Pita and Onion/Radish Slaw

1st Course - Bryn - Escargot Stew with Butter Sauce and Wild Mushrooms
Danielle - Seared Tuna with a Stew of Tomatoes, Orzo, Baby Potato, Fava Beans
and Artichokes

2nd Course - Bryn - Grilled Calamari with a Red Pepper Drizzle
Danielle - Seared Scallops with Morels on a Puree of Fresh Peas and Mint with
Fried Pork Belly

3rd Course - Bryn - Foie Gras (He couldn't remember any other details for this one because he was too much in love with the dish)
Danielle - Braised Oxtail on Smoked Tomatoes with a Port Reduction

Palate Cleanser - Bryn - Ginger Beer with Lime and Cucumber
Danielle - Cointreau Soaked Strawberry in Crème Fraiche with Black Pepper

Main Course - Bryn - Sliced Sirloin with Goat Cheese and Frisee
Danielle - Lime Infused Duck with Black Bean Puree and Smoked Corn Sauce

Cheese Course - Bryn - Goat Milk Brie with Apricot Carpaccio and Honey flavoured Brandy
Danielle - Blue Veined Sheep's Milk Cheese with Sliced Pear, Mini Toast with
Date Butter and Pine Nut Cream

Pre- Dessert (Yes, the dessert BEFORE the dessert)-
Bryn - Cherry Wood Smoked Marshmallow on Chocolate Ganache
Danielle - Homemade Fig Newton with chocolate chunk, pistachio sorbet

Dessert - Bryn - Pound Cake 2 Ways
Danielle - Apple Tart

I know this sounds like a TONNE of food but they were all small plates. By the end we both were full and mildly tipsy. The wines were fabulous and Bryn has a new found love for white wines. Unfortunately we didn't catch the names of half the wines because the Sommelier spoke so quietly. All in all it was fabulous!!!!!!!!"

August 27, 2006

Dinner Party - August 26, 2006.

Last night my father and his wife were over for dinner. I love being able to base my menu on the things that I can take from my garden. I was able to use - zucchini, tomatoes, parsley, basil, oregano, and lavender. I also cut a few flowers from the Butterfly Bush for the table.

The menu last night included:

Sliced Beefsteak Tomatoes with Vinaigrette, Parmesan and Parsley

Zucchini Stuffed with Sausage and Brown Rice (recipe below)

Grilled Zucchini and Chickpea Salad with sundried Tomatoes and Asiago Cheese (original has tortellini)

Spicy Thai Mussels

Grilled Tequila Pineapple with Vanilla Ice Cream and Toasted Coconut

In my opinion it all turned out really well. I would maybe order only 2 lbs of mussels instead of 3 next time, but that is about it. Lots of flavour and fresh ingredients - YUM!

The mussel recipe was taken from and the salad from .

My recipe for stuffed zucchini came from us having too many of them lying around. My mother-in-law told me about a recipe that she saw, but I figured I could make one up just as well.
Please note that when I am cooking I rarely measure things so these are approximations. Tweak the recipe to your liking.

** When using canned tomatoes always buy whole ones and then chop or squish them to your desired size or texture. The best quality tomatoes are canned whole and the ones that are chopped or minced are like the fish they serve at restaurants on Monday - yucky!

Danielle's Savoury Stuffed Zucchini

2 large zucchini

1c small dice mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery)
1 T minced garlic
1 T olive oil
1T chili flakes
3 mild-medium Italian Sausage links
3 T fresh basil, chopped or 1T dried basil
1 c partially cooked brown rice
1 regular can whole tomatoes or 3 large tomatoes, chopped + 1/2 c water

1/2 c shaved Pecorino or Parmesan

1. Slice the zucchini in half length-wise and scoop out all the seeds. Set aside.

2. Saute the mirepoix and garlic in a pan with the olive oil and S&P (to taste) until soft, about 7-8 minutes. Add chili flakes and saute 1 more minute.

3. Remove the sausage from the casing and add to the pan. Saute until the meat is cooked through, breaking it into smaller pieces as you go.

4. Stir in basil, brown rice and tomatoes. If you are taking the tomatoes from a can, crush them in your fingers before adding them to the pan. Make sure everything in thoroughly mixed in and then leave the mixture on simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated - about 25 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

6. Allow the sausage mixture to cool slightly and then fill the zucchini with the mixture. Place them in a glass pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake them in the oven (covered) for about 20 minutes. Then uncover them and allow to bake for another 10 minutes.

7. When complete, serve stuffed zucchini with shaved cheese on top.

Makes approach. 4 servings.

August 23, 2006


Lots of friends of my ask me how I learned to cook. I give my mom most of the credit for this - though she claims that I may have surpassed her in my skills.

Growing up we were never a "meat and potatoes" type of family. I think that my mom may have been so turned off by her mother's cooking that she felt that she really needed to put her skills to use. We did have our staple meals during the week but they were always punctuated by a few days when we had Mexican, Asian or maybe a curry. I don't think that I always loved
everything that we had, but I like the idea that we didn't just eat stereotypical white Western European/Canadian food. I do remember friends coming over for dinner and asking to have "eggs" for dinner instead of the refried bean burritos that we were eating.

I love my memories of shopping for food with my parents as well. I remember going to Detroit to get ingredients for Mexican dishes because there were no grocery stores that carried them in Windsor. I used to love going to the market and shopping for different fruits and vegetables. If we were lucky enough, my sister and I would be able to snag a few loose grapes, a bag of cheese curd, a giant pretzel with mustard or a big sugar cookie with some cartoon character on it made of icing.

My family was traditional in that my mother did most of the cooking but I am sure that my father inspired me as well. First off, he was my guinea pig when I started to try to make dinner. I think I was about 13 or 14 - some things went really well (chili and cornbread), some things bombed (homemade pasta with burned tomato sauce) - and he ate all of it. Well, he at least tried it. My father was always good for experimenting when it was his night to cook. There was always his scrambled eggs recipe from the old Mary Moore cook book as well as his "Tuna Casserole with Honey Bran Flake Topping" - it wasn't as bad as you'd think. My dad's eating habits definitely influenced what we ate every day. He was usually on some fad diet and did spend quite a bit of time as a vegetarian (the kind that ate fish though). Coming up with meatless meals in the 70's and 80's was no small feat, I am sure.

As I have gotten a bit older I have looked to friends, books, magazines, tv shows, cooking club and some classes for inspiration. There isn't much that I wouldn't try to make and still not all of it is successful (Cod with Roasted Beets - ew!) but I love the process.

August 19, 2006

Food Blogging

I have always been interested in blogs. I didn't know much about them until I took a food writing course at George Brown with Carol Ferguson - from Homemakers and Canadian Living mags. She suggested that keeping a blog was a great way to get experience with food writing so that you can then use that as part of your portfolio.

Food writing was going to be my new thing - for about 5 minutes - and then the reality of actually being able to get a job writing about food in Windsor, Ontario hit me. I'm over it now, and I think this blog may be able to fill my writing needs for now. (Thanks Cara for the suggestion!)

As for me, I am a foodie. I am obsessed with food - eating it, cooking it, reading about it, and watching it on tv. My shelves are packed with recipe books, magazines, non-fiction and fiction books - all related to food. I have taken cooking classes, food anthropology courses, and writing courses. I frequent various food websites and I adore looking at menus for restaurants. In my circle of friends I am known for my ability to cook, entertain and choose fabulous restaurants. I love food.

I decided to name this blog "Maple Syrup and Poutine" after my recent visit to Quebec. My interest in Canadian food in general was also an inspiration.

This is the beginning of something fun...