Tag Archives: Weekend Cooking

A simple, lovely arugula salad

A simple arugula salad

My sister made this for me last year after one of our dinners out together. We’d gone back to her place, and she had some fresh arugula she really wanted me to try. So she whipped together this really simple salad, and after I tasted it, I was hooked on both arugula and this lovely, easy salad dressing.

And now I don’t even buy bottled salad dressings. (Well, except Caesar dressing, because my oldest likes to use it as a dipping sauce when he has pizza).

Here’s all you need:

Really good quality extra virgin olive oil. You want to use something really good, because this is the kind of salad where you’re going to taste your olive oil, along with your arugula.

Lime juice. (Or lemon, if you prefer lemon.) We always have a bottle of organic lime juice in the fridge, so I use that, but if you have fresh, that’s even better.

Parmesan cheese (the kind you grate yourself). Again, the better the cheese, the better your dressing will taste, but even with a mediocre slab of Parmesan, it’s going to taste good. I know, because we usually just buy the big hunks of Parmesan from Costco.

Salt. I use sea salt because my husband is the cook around here and I don’t know where he hides the regular salt. But really, I’d probably use sea salt even if I knew where the regular salt was. We have this nice wooden grinder a friend made for us that’s perfect for grinding flakes of sea salt over the salad.

Arugula. Because this is an arugula salad. But I’ve even used this dressing with celery cut into pieces and it was delicious. So you can use any greens or vegetables you like. I like arugula’s peppery taste, plus the way its leaves hold up to dressing.

Here’s what you do with your ingredients:

Pour your extra virgin olive oil liberally over your arugula. Shake salt over the top. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of lime or lemon juice over the arugula, then grate as much Parmesan cheese as you like on top of it all.




Arugula salad

I’ll be linking this post up at this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking feature at Beth Fish Reads. For more delicious links to foodie posts – books, recipes, movies, anything food-related goes – make sure to check out Weekend Cooking this Saturday.

Eggy Perfection: Egg Fried in an Onion Ring

One of the things I love about playing catch-up on all the feeds I’ve saved on Feedly and all the stuff that shows up in my Flipboard feed? I never know what I’ll find, and how it might affect some part of my life.

The other day, for example, I was browsing through Flipboard, and I came across this article: “This Hack For The Perfectly Shaped Fried Eggs Just Changed Breakfast Forever” at Huffington Post. I’m actually not fond of titles like this, but I do love fried eggs, so I couldn’t resist taking a peek.

The hack the article talks about comes from this food threat at Reddit. Basically, you make a perfectly shaped fried egg by frying it in an onion ring. When I first read this, I immediately thought of deep fried onion rings, which kind of shows you where my mind is when it comes to my onions.

But no, the article was talking about raw onion rings, which makes this method of frying up an egg very doable. (Eggs fried in deep fried onion rings would not be doable at my house, as there are generally never any onion rings left over whenever we do have them.)

I wasn’t enticed by the idea of being able to cook an egg in a perfect circle. Frankly, I don’t really care about achieving a perfect roundness with my fried eggs, and if that’s all I wanted, I could probably find a circular metal cookie cutter that would do the trick. Or order an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s.

(I’m sure Hercule Poirot would be quite thrilled by this hack, though, for the roundness of it all.)

No, what enticed me was the thought of pairing fried onion with fried egg in such an easy, effortless way. Mmmm. Just reading the article, I could taste it already. (The original Reddit thread talks about using the egg fried in an onion ring in a sandwich, and it would be perfect for that.)

So next thing you know, I was frying up some eggs in raw onion rings.

Photo 2015-01-13, 12 58 19 PM

As you can see, there is a danger that your egg might leak out from the bottom of your onion ring. But if you’re doing this because you want a nice circle, and not for the lovely taste of onion, no worries, because it’s easy enough to use your spatula to scrape off any egg white that leaks out the bottom. Voila:

Photo 2015-01-13, 1 00 52 PM

Another handy tip is to make sure the depth of your onion ring is thick enough to contain all the egg – overflowing from the top is definitely preventable. And if you want to make sure you get a nice onion taste, use two or three layers of onion, not just one. (So yes, you want to be working with a large onion.)

Here they are, cooked and ready to eat. Note: the onion isn’t burned. It’s just that I used a red onion, so it looks darker in the picture.

Photo 2015-01-13, 1 04 13 PM

It was delicious. The onion ring gets cooked just right, and lends a wonderful onion-y flavour to the fried egg. Would I make this again? I already have! I made some more this morning for my breakfast again.

I’ll be linking this post up at Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking feature this Saturday. Do you love to read food-related blog posts? Make sure to head on over and check out all the other delicious posts of the week!


So last week I mentioned how surprised I was that I was actually blogging about making kefir. Well, it turns out I’m going to keep surprising myself food-wise, because …

I just made homemade cheese! (Well, I guess if I made it, it would of course be homemade, but it felt absolutely necessary to use that word “homemade” because that’s part of what’s making me feel giddy inside.)

Here it is. Not a beautiful, food-magazine worthy shot, but it looks gorgeous to me:

Photo 2014-12-13, 7 14 31 PM

It’s a spreadable cream cheese type of cheese, and I made it from (did you guess?) kefir! I flavoured this batch with onion and garlic and some salt, and I’m waiting for the flavours to meld together before I use it. I’ve tasted it already and it tastes good, like a slightly more tart version of regular spreadable cream cheese.

I had no clue until a few days ago that I was even going to try something like this. But remember those milk kefir grains I got? Well, they apparently love the condo, because they culture milk into kefir like crazy. I’m now letting it go 24 hours because I’d be awash in milk kefir otherwise, but it really only takes about 12 hours and I have something drinkable.

Now, I like kefir, and I’ve been trying a lot of really delicious flavours (strawberry, blueberry, chocolate – and I’m trying out mango for today’s batch). The stuff is so delicious when you make it yourself, I can easily drink two or three glasses a day. But even with that kind of consumption rate, I do end up with extra kefir.

So I did some poking around online, and discovered it’s really really easy making kefir cheese. I checked out a bunch of “recipes” and they basically all said the same thing. Put your kefir into a square of cotton cloth (I just used one of our cotton table napkins), tie it up into a bundle and stick it in the fridge, where the whey will drip out of it. Most people put it in a strainer hanging over a large container, but I just stuck mine in a mason jar, stuck a chopstick through the knots I’d made to keep the bundle suspended, and 24 hours later … cheese!

Now I’m going to poke around online and see what kind of cheese-making kits might be out there. I need to add stuff to my Christmas wishlist!

I’m linking this post to this week’s Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads. Pop on over to check out more lovely foodie links!

A Foodie Weekend in Montreal

My sister wasn’t kidding when she warned me my weekend with her in Montreal would be a total foodie weekend. All of our time there was devoted to food; if we weren’t eating, we were shopping for food delights, and if we weren’t shopping for food delights, we were eating.

And there are a lot of great restaurants and foodie shops in Montreal, that’s for sure.

IMAG0419A slightly blurry me in our hotel room

On Friday night we headed out to the FoodLab; located at La Société des Arts Technologiques, the restaurant styles itself as a “labo culinaire” (culinary lab?) and in keeping with this, the chefs experiment constantly with the menus, which are themed according to country. The theme for our evening there was “l’ete au sud de l’Italie” (summer in the south of Italy, if my rusty French is accurate).

After some deliberating, we decided to share the antipasti with burrata cheese and bread. There were six kinds of antipasti on our platter, and the most delicious was a bright summery green fava bean tartine. We oohed and aahed over this one, and Dawn vowed to recreate the recipe when she got back home. Which she did, by the way. She searched online and found this recipe for Fava Bean Puree at the James Beard Foundation; she tweaked it a bit (the version we had didn’t have rosemary so she used a bay leaf instead) and she says it’s very very similar to what we had.

It was my first time eating burrata cheese, too; a very lovely soft cheese but apparently a little hard on the wallet. Dawn also warned me to always buy burrata cheese from Italy; the Canadian version is not, apparently, as good (although much easier on the wallet).

Photo 2013-07-19 8 46 12 PMEvening stroll in Old Montreal

After our dinner, we walked around Old Montreal; there’d been a downpour earlier which had cleared the heat from the city, and it was a beautiful, cool summer night. We ended up at the Kitchen Galerie where we indulged in oysters – so good!

The next day we went food shopping, hitting a bunch of gourmet food stores; I didn’t buy all that much, since I’m not the cook in the family and wasn’t too sure what would be appreciated and used in our pantry. I did buy a lovely chocolate chili rooibos tea, though – I’ve been trying to find one for ages (they’re usually made with black teas, and I wanted a non-caffeinated version). I also bought some lovely rosemary and sea salt bagels from St-Viateur Bagel (which, unfortunately, I forgot to wrap in plastic, so they weren’t quite as good the next day).

Photo 2013-07-20 2 39 31 PMLots of little shops!

On Saturday evening we dined at Le Comptoir, a lovely little bistro restaurant that also does some experimental things. We decided to share a number of plates, as it was difficult to choose just one thing. We ended up with a ravioli dish, a shrimp ceviché, Albacore tuna carpaccio and the absolute highlight of the evening: Paleron de boeuf braisé, cassolette de petits légumes, gnudi, estragon, sauge & citron. Or … braised chuck! Yes, chuck. We were both amazed when the waiter brought this dish to our table:

IMAG0436Yes, this is beef chuck!

It was very, very tender and tasty and, as you can see, nicely pink. This is not the way chuck turns out for us when we cook it here, that’s for sure! Dawn asked the waiter how it was made; he told us it was braised for 48 hours in a 50° oven.

(Dawn intends to replicate this dish, too, using a 150° oven, since that’s the lowest setting on consumer ovens.)

After our dinner, we strolled along boul. Saint-Laurent for a bit, before deciding we weren’t so full we couldn’t have more … oysters! We ended up at the Maestro S.V.P., where I learned west coast oysters have a hint of watermelon flavour. I think they’re my new favourites.

On Sunday we checked out of our hotel and then headed toward the Marché Jean-Talon, Montreal’s biggest public market. Dawn stocked up on veggies for the week, along with a vast assortment of deli meats (I didn’t know there were so many different kinds), cheeses and handmade pasta. I was a little too timid to try any of the deli meats but I did buy a couple of bison sausages for Ward, some pear and coriander yogurt and some lovely soft cheeses.

And then we started on our six hour drive home. It was a lovely, lovely foodie weekend. I haven’t been exercising for the past few months because the weather’s been too hot for running, but I’m promising myself I’ll start again soon. Because it was that kind of a really really good foodie weekend!

I’ve linked this post up to this week’s delicious Weekend Cooking feature at Beth Fish Reads. For more great food-related reads, hop on over and check out the other participating posts!

The Root of Our Current Kitchen Sorrows

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs in our kitchen right now.

You see, I am (temporarily) in charge of dinner.

Yes, you can feel sorry for my kids, they who must bear the brunt of this change in the domestic cooking arena.

And to make things worse, it’s all more or less my fault.

Early in February, I got an email from the Canadian Opera Company (well, I did, as did all the other subscribers to the COC’s newsletter). They had some interesting news: they were holding an open call to fill over a 100 “supernumerary” roles for their upcoming spring productions!

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering, what’s a “supernumerary”? Luckily, the newsletter spelled it out for me:

Supernumeraries, a.k.a. supers, are the extras of the opera world and play a variety of non-singing roles. They are vital to enhancing the operatic experience presented on stage.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know the following about Ward, my significant other:

(1) he teaches martial arts for a living


(2) he’s the (one and only) cook around here.

What you probably don’t know is, he’s a huge opera fan. So when I read that email, I got really excited. “You’ve got to go to the casting call!” I said.

Ward was hesitant, never having even contemplated doing anything like this before. But I was persuasive, and when the date of the open call rolled around, off he went.

You probably know where this is headed, right?

Yes, Ward was picked to be a “super”: he’s playing the role of a peasant in the COC’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, the story of an order of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution.

dialoguesPhoto credit: Canadian Opera Company

If you get a chance to attend the performance, which runs in Toronto from May 8 to 25 at the Four Seasons Centre, Ward says he’s in the front row in several of the scenes in which the supers play a part. Look for the tall guy with light brown hair and blue eyes, dressed in peasant robes. (Mind you, I think all the supers are in peasant robes. And there are about 60 male supers. So okay, you might not be able to pick him out.)

Ward’s been having a blast, attending the rehearsals, hearing some great opera almost every night, getting to meet some of the main performers.

The downside? I’m temporarily in charge of the kitchen. Because there are a lot of rehearsals in the evenings, both during the week and on weekends.

Which means, no one to cook dinner.

So far, we’ve been having a lot of takeout. As I mentioned in my last Sunday Salon post, I’ve even taken to doing the 40 minute walk to Chinatown to pick up congee and Chinese donuts (which Wikipedia tells me is called youtiao) and then doing the 40 minute walk back. The walking is a good thing, because having a lot of takeout does not add up to a particularly low-fat diet, if you know what I mean.

Then there’s that good old standby, grilled cheese. And sandwiches. I am particularly gifted in putting together ham and cheese sandwiches. I will even cut off the crusts if you so desire.

And let us not forget frozen lasagne. Thank goodness for frozen lasagne. It kind of feels like a home-cooked meal. So far we’ve tried two kinds: the Longo’s store brand and the President’s Choice brand from Loblaw. Everyone here likes the President’s Choice one better.

Now I just have to get through most of May.  If  you have a suggestion for a quick and very very easy dish that even I can make, please please please let me know in the comments. My children will thank you.

Since this post mentions food to a certain degree (although it mostly discusses the root of our current kitchen sorrows), I’ll be linking it up at Weekend Cooking, a regular feature that runs every Saturday at Beth Fish Reads.

Our Groaning Cookbook Shelves

Ward and I have run into a major dilemma: we’ve run out of room in our cookbook bookcase.

A few months ago, Ward confiscated shelf space in another bookcase for all the new cookbook additions he received at Christmas. But frankly, there isn’t any more spare shelf space anywhere. So no more shelf space for him to confiscate.

What this really means is, no more shelf space, period. For any kind of book.

We’ve resorted to squeezing books into any reasonably sized gaps we can find. It works, although it does make for somewhat messy looking shelves.

Unfortunately, most cookbooks tend to be on the large size.

Take Nigella Lawson’s Nigellissima.


Nigellissima is a beautiful book. It is also quite a large book. So large, we haven’t been able to find a gap the right size anywhere on our shelves.

So Nigellissima has been semi-permanently residing on our coffee table. (As a matter of fact, all manner of books have taken up semi-permanent residence on our coffee table, and honestly, there’s not much room for anything else, like coffee cups.)

The good news? I’ve discovered a very temporary solution to our cookbook problem.

The Library

When Candace posted her review of D’Lish Deviled Eggs, by Kathy Casey, I decided to check the Toronto Public Library to see if I could borrow a copy. Turned out I could, and so I did.

Deviled eggs

And I’m very glad I did. In addition to delicious recipes, it turns out this book, while available in hardcover, is small, in terms of its physical dimensions!

Which means it’s on my to-buy list, the next time I engage in a book buying spree. Which we all know I shouldn’t be doing, given the lack of bookshelf space here. But I think we all also know I’m not going to let a thing like lack of space stop me, right?

Ebook Versions

I’ve gotten used to viewing recipes electronically, since we subscribe to a few cooking magazines through Zinio. They look great on Zinio’s iPad app, and the iPad sits nicely on the cookbook stand in the kitchen so no problems there.

So why not ebook versions of cookbooks, I thought?

Well, actually, I didn’t go through this particular thought process. What really happened was this: I was cruising Amazon online, looking for cookbooks to buy Ward for his birthday earlier this month. And I came across Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, by Yotam Ottolenghi.


And as luck would have it, the Kindle version was on sale. I think it was $2.99, although it might have been $3.99.  (Unfortunately, it’s no longer on sale – I just checked, and it’s now $9.80. Still a good deal, though.)

So I decided to get it, sort of as a test case for ebook cookbooks.  And I’m very glad I did. The book reads beautifully on my iPad Kindle app, and the bonus? The recipes in the Table of Contents are hyperlinked to the recipes in the book, so it just takes a tap of your finger and you’re on the right page.

While nothing really beats a print copy of a  beautiful full-colour cookbook, ebook versions do work just as well for the purposes of cooking. With our lack of shelf space, I think this will be an ideal temporary solution.

But in the meantime, I’ve been scoping out various spots around the condo where we might be able to squeeze in another bookcase or two …

I’m participating in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads with this post. For more delicious food-related posts, hop on over to check out many more wonderful foodie reads!

Five Ingredient Blueberry Buckle

It really wasn’t such a great thing for us to have an upright freezer back at the old house, where we had the room for it (plus an old fridge we kept as an extra fridge). When we cleaned it out in preparation for our “big move” to the city, we found food that had been in there for way too long – so long, it was rather pointless Googling “how long should _______ be kept frozen in the freezer?”

We had conversations like this:

Me: Say, that looks like the Moroccan beef stew we made that one time, the interesting one with the raisins.

Ward: How long ago was that? A couple of years?

Me: Actually, I’m pretty sure I was pregnant …

Both turn to look at our youngest, Dylan, who was 8 at the time. Long pause. Sound of something hitting the bottom of the garbage pail (although by the time we were through, that garbage was pretty full).

Yes, it appears we used the freezer for extremely long-term storage.

But old habits die hard, so you can probably imagine the state of our current freezer, the one that’s part of our fridge. It’s one of those bottom drawer pull-out ones, which is a little roomier than freezers in a regular fridge, but that just means we can stuff more things in. And every now and then we have to weed through things in there so we can add more things, if you know what I mean.

I was looking for something in the freezer recently, and saw that somehow, we had two big tubs of vanilla ice cream in there.

Now, having extra ice cream doesn’t sound like too much of a hardship, I know, but as a family we tend to like our ice cream in the shape of bars, wrapped in a lovely coating of chocolate. So ice cream generally doesn’t get eaten unless there’s pie or cake to go with it, which isn’t all that often, as we’re not that big on desserts here.

We knew we’d have to get rid of one, but it felt rather awful, the idea of pulling out one of the tubs and just letting it melt so we could pour it down the drain.

Luckily, this past weekend I decided to read the March 2013 issue of O! magazine. O! usually runs three or four recipes in each issue. When I came across this particular recipe, I rushed to the freezer and pulled out one of the tubs of ice cream, so it would be melted by the time my husband came home. Then I texted him. “I found a use for the extra ice cream!”

This is what he baked that night:


Doesn’t it look delicious? And it uses two cups of melted vanilla ice cream!

So, if you ever end up with extra ice cream and need to make room in your freezer, here’s a super recipe you can try. The O! magazine recipe uses raspberries; we adapted it to our particular fruit preference, and used blueberries, but you can pretty well use any fruit that’s suitable for baking, I’d think.

Five Ingredient Blueberry Buckle

1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for greasing pan
2 cups vanilla ice cream, melted
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt*
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 375° and lightly grease a 9” round pan with oil.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ice cream, flour, oil and salt, and pour into pan.

3. Scatter blueberries over the top and bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

*next time we make this, we’ll use less salt, and add a bit of sugar or use a sweeter fruit. The cake portion wasn’t very sweet, which we actually liked, but some of the blueberries were on the tart side.

It was so quick and easy to make, I think we might end up stocking vanilla ice cream regularly in the freezer just so we can make this when we feel a need for dessert coming on.

I’ll be linking up this post at Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking feature; come check back for the link, so you can read more wonderful food-related posts, many of them bookish!

Cookbook Review: Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals

About a month ago Ward happened to be on the stationary bicycle at the gym watching Food Network Canada when Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals came on. Ward’s a big fan of Jamie Oliver, so he was quite delighted and ended up adjusting his schedule so he could continue catching the show while working out.

He’d make notes in his head, then jot things down as soon as he got back so he could make a dish for dinner that night that he’d watched Jamie making earlier in the day.

The meal that was the biggest hit? Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad. It comes to the table all greens and reds, very veggie looking – and the first time Ward made this, Sean, my older son, sheepishly took seconds and then thirds. Sean doesn’t really like vegetables much (so much for all the homemade broccoli, sweet potato and other mashed veg I made for him when he was a baby!), hence the sheepishness. But he had to admit he really enjoyed the dish, despite what to him looked like an overabundance of greens and reds.

After quite a few delicious hits just from watching the show, we decided it was high time we got a copy of the book – only to discover it’s not sold here in North America. Fortunately, Book Depository came to our rescue. We bought Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals from the Book Depository and received it within a week.

Jamie's 15 Minute Meals

It’s a lovely cookbook, with the recipes organized in the following categories: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Fish, Pasta, Soups & Sarnies (I had to look up “sarnies”, so if you didn’t know either, it’s a British term for “sandwich”), Veggie and Breakfast. There’s also a great nutrition section at the back that tells you all the nutritional information for each dish.

Each recipe in Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals gives you a full meal: an entree and side dishes (except in cases where the main dish is an all-in-one kind of dish). The recipe is on the left hand side and a gorgeous (as in very yummy looking) photo is on the right hand side.

Just because the meals are supposed to be quick and easy to make, they’re not all the same old plain and boring fare, either. The recipes range from all over the world, and while you can pick something more basic, like Rosemary Chicken or Chicken Cacciatore, you can also go a little more exotic, like Moroccan Mussels, Tapenade Toasties & Cucumber Salad or Beef Kofta Curry, Fluffy Rice & Beans and Peas.

The recipes, unfortunately, aren’t accompanied by any descriptive or conversational paragraph telling us things about the meal. I know it’s not really necessary to the recipe itself, but I’m more of a cookbook reader than I am a cook (I guess it’s safe to say, I’m a cookbook reader, period, actually), and I found myself missing the little preambles to the entrees. How did this recipe come about? I’d wonder. From where did it originate?

We’ve tried a few more recipes from the book, but the Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad remains our favourite dish so far. We kept forgetting to take pictures, but the next time Ward makes it, I’ll be sure to get some pictures so I can post the recipe.

There’s one thing I can’t answer, though – the key question, perhaps. Can you really make these meals in 15 minutes?

I, of course, can’t answer this question personally, as I don’t do the cooking around here. So I asked Ward, byt he couldn’t tell me either, because he hasn’t tried to make any of the meals in 15 minutes. He likes to take his time when he’s cooking.  First of all, he likes all the chopping up of things – he finds it quite meditative. In Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, Jamie includes lots of time-saving tips like using your food processor to chop up all the things that require chopping, and your blender to quickly mix things.

Ward is also a clean-as-he-cooks kind of guy, and he’s not certain he’d be able to make the meals in 15 minutes and still clean things as he’s cooking. But overall he’s quite happy with the efficiency of the meals, and has turned to Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals on nights when he feels a little more pressed for time.

As for me, well, everything Ward’s prepared from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals has been quite delicious, so I’m quite happy with the book!

I’m participating in Candace’s Weekend Cooking with this post.  If you enjoy reading food-related posts, make sure to check out the links there!

An Evening With Jamie Oliver

On Friday Ward and I had a night out – we had tickets to see Jamie Oliver at Massey Hall in Toronto!

Last November, shortly after we moved into our new place in the city, we’d gone to see Jamie at Roy Thomson Hall. I never got around to blogging about it, but Jamie was funny, articulate and most impressively, he managed to make us feel like we were sitting in his living room, chatting away.

This year’s venue, Massey Hall, has a cozier feel than Roy Thomson, and once again Jamie Oliver worked his magic. He’s such a wonderful speaker, and had the audience laughing several times. I forgot to be a good little blogger throughout the first half of the event, but halfway through, I came to my senses, whipped out my notebook, and began jotting down notes.

So yeah, this post is mostly about what second half of the program, which was the Q&A portion.

Photo 2012-10-19 8 10 38 PM

A very bad picture of Jamie on stage (taken from the nosebleed section …)

Last year we purchased pretty good seats, but this year we decided to be thrifty and chose the centre gallery seats. Very high up, but the sound was fantastic. And considering we each received a complimentary copy of Jamie’s latest cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, it was quite a good deal.

(Although Ward wasn’t as thrilled as I was. He’s much taller than I am, and the centre gallery seats at Massey Hall don’t give you much leg room. He kept looking longingly at the newer, roomier seats in the side gallery one level below us …)

Jamie started the evening’s chat with Matt Galloway (host of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning) by going off on a tangent about his public school days, where he was one of seven or eight boys who were labelled “special needs” (Jamie is dyslexic). He had us laughing from the start, with his imitation of the teacher who was in charge of the special needs class, and how he and the other boys in the class got their revenge on the other boys by shooting spitballs at the students sitting below them in the library.

His point, from what I can remember, is that he never did well at school, but cooking saved him.

Other highlights from the first half of the program: Jamie sang us a few bars of the song the boys at school used to sing about the special needs kids. It was along the lines of  “Special needs, special needs” sung to the tune of “Let It Be”. (He regaled us with a few other bars of song a little later, and he didn’t sound half bad.)

He also talked about how working on the school lunch program in London made him realize how people, even very bright people, don’t deal very well with change.

Moving on to the second half of the program, in which he answered questions from the audience (people got to write their questions down on cards which were then collected and brought to stage) but also occasionally went off on some delightful tangents:

On what he would choose as his last meal: The original question was what was the best meal he’s ever had. He didn’t want to answer this one; it was just too hard because he’s had so many fabulous meals. Matt Galloway rephrased it as a last meal question. Jamie said it would have to be his mom’s roast dinner, because food isn’t just the taste, it’s the memories as well. His mom’s a good cook, but it’s all the memories that are tied into her roast dinners that would make him choose it as his last meal.

On romantic meals: Jamie said he’s not very good at romantic stuff at all. But probably no noodles or spaghetti – too difficult to eat without wearing some of it.

On rude veggies: This was one of the tangents. Jamie talked about how the machines that vegetable producers use aren’t capable of getting rid of malformed vegetables, so people are actually hired to scan the vegetables and pick out the ones which have extra bits sticking out of them (the point being the extra bits usually look like various parts of the male and female anatomy). And one of the things he’s doing is bringing back “bagged rude veg”, because rude veggies always make people laugh and have fun at the dinner table. People get a kick out of serving rude vegetables. Especially to their mother-in-laws.

On family life: His kids are totally not impressed with him, and whenever they see someone who treats him like he’s somebody, they’re in shock.

On possibly opening up a restaurant in Toronto: There aren’t any plans in the works, but if he did, he thinks Torontonians would enjoy a Jamie’s Italian: great food, good prices. He also talked about his new restaurant in Montreal, Maison Publique, which he and Montreal chef Derek Dammann opened earlier this month. One of the things Jamie wanted was for the restaurant, which serves British pub fare, to be accessible. (I gather DNA, which was chef Dammann’s previous restaurant in Montreal, was on the high-end side.)

On mentoring: You can either die of jealousy when your protegé gets better than you – and some of them will, whether it’s because of talent or because they have a passion for a specific niche -  or you can be supportive and continue to help them grow.

On New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of large sugary sodas: A brave man, showing brave leadership.

Jamie’s advice to chef Susur Lee, who is reforming school lunches in Toronto: Line up long term agreement amongst the people in government. And say “no” to the No Salt people, because when you’ve been giving kids 600 mgs of sodium, you can’t just take it all away like that. You need to give the kids flavour and that does include some salt.

On the most underrated British food: Desserts. Jamie talked about his newest show, Food Fight Club, in which Britain goes head to head with other countries in themed culinary battles. They took desserts to Italy; Britain’s hot desserts were pitted against Italy’s cold desserts. In all the other countries, the judging panel was made up of international judges. In Italy, they were told there would be no international judges; the Italians would do the judging themselves! Naturally, Jamie said, after being flabbergasted by this new wrinkle, they wrote it into the storyline, making for quite a good show.

His guilty food pleasure: Chiles. He loves all kinds of chiles. He told a story about playing a trick on one of his daughters with apples and – you guessed it – chiles.

On people who inspire him: A lot of people inspire him. He named two for us:  Paul Smith, the fashion designer, who used to come regularly to the River Café when Jamie was cooking there. Jamie didn’t know who he was, but Smith would always ask to talk to him after dinner. One time, Jamie told Smith that he’d just bought a new suit, a rather nice one by Paul Smith. Smith said, “I’m Paul Smith.” Jamie said, “No you’re not.” Smith said, “Yes, I am.” Jamie said, “No you’re not.” Smith said, “But I am.” Jamie, who still thought Smith was putting him on, said, “Show me your driver’s licence.” Which was when he realized it really was Paul Smith! He also talked about Richard Curtis, known for his romantic comedies, including Notting Hill and Love Actually. Curtis is also the founder of Comic Relief in the UK, which does a tremendous lot of good.

It was such a great talk and like last year, the time passed by in a flash. I’d seen on Twitter earlier that day that Jamie had just done a presentation in the morning in Pittsburgh, so he must have been quite tired since he would have had to fly from Pittsburgh to Toronto, and then be ready for the Massey Hall event that very night. But he’s such a great speaker and he made it all seem effortless.

Last night Ward made Early Autumn Cornish Pasties from our new Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain cookbook; they were delicious. Since we each got a copy of the cookbook, I gave my copy to my sister Dawn. And hopefully she, too, will cook things for me out of it!

I’ll be linking this post to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking feature later this week. Be sure to drop by Beth Fish Reads on Friday to check out other great food posts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada – Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians! This year we’re heading over to my sister Dawn’s new place, to join her and her boys, my mom, my uncle and my cousin for s scrumptious non-traditional Thanksgiving feast.

A few years ago we all discussed the whole turkey thing and realized none of us really enjoyed turkey all that much. And as a result, our Thanksgiving feasts have been getting more and more non-traditional with each passing year.

This is what my sister’s planned for the menu (I took this directly from the group email she sent out – we started planning our family get-togethers via email and it works wonderfully):

  • Ribolita – twice cooked greens and white bean soup (starter)  (V)
  • Tofu marinated in poultry seasoning dust and fine sea salt. Pan roasted and glazed with a vegetable jus reduction infused with sage.  (V)
  • Braised bone-in chicken pieces with 40 cloves of garlic, herbs and lemon
  • Stuffing (with giblets and chicken stock) with chicken gravy
  • Vegan stuffing (V)
  • Mashed sweet potatoes  (V)
  • Kos salad with scallions (V)

“(V)” means the dish is vegan. Ward’s making the vegan stuffing, and last night he also made two pumpkin pies, one vegan and one non-vegan.

Dawn recently found the braised chicken recipe and tells me her two boys told her it was the best chicken ever when she cooked it on a test run a few weeks go.

I’m really looking forward to dinner tonight. My sister doesn’t have a table big enough for all of us, so we’ll get to sit on the sofa and armchairs – wonderfully informal. I envision a lot of talking and a lot of eating. My family doesn’t have very many expectations when it comes to our family get-togethers – as long as the food’s good, we’re all quite happy.

Feasting with family, great conversations, lots of laughing – to me, that’s the best kind of Thanksgiving dinner!

This post is my contribution to this week’s Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads. For more delicious posts from bloggers, head on over and check out all the links!