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Arancini Al Nero De Seppia (Squid Ink)

What do you do with three cups of leftover risotto al nero de seppia?
Make arancini, of course.

Although everyone in the house loves these crispy little risotto balls, I rarely make them because, frankly, I am still terrified of deep frying. The odd time I make them, I either bake them or pan fry them in a shallow pan with a bit of oil and although good, they aren't amazing. To really enjoy an arancini, you need the crispy crust that you crack to reveal the soft, creamy rice innards and you can really only get that crust by deep frying them.

Now that I am 50, I have decided it is high time to face some of my fears in the face so I pulled out a small pot, a bottle of canola oil and my instant read thermometer and did what needed to be done. I am not going to tell you that it was a walk in the park, emotionally, but I buckled down and heated that damned oil all the way to 350F and deep fried these arancini like a boss. The panko adds a bit more substance to the coating but you can always just use plain, old dried bread crumbs if you like.

I have been ordering rabbit arancini all over the place lately so I suppose it's a "thing" right now and each time it comes sauced with a rich, aioli type sauce but because this rice is so rich I wanted something with a bit of an edge to it. I thought about a tomato sauce but chose to make a smoky roasted red pepper sauce instead. I was worried that this might cause a revolt from my old school, marinara loving guy but he didn't say one word about the lack of tomato sauce and, in fact, I took the fact that his little bowl of sauce had been wiped clean as a sign that the red pepper sauce was a good call.

Shack was so happy that he has decided to buy me a tiny deep fryer just for this very purpose. The man loves his arancini.

Arancini al Nero de Seppia

make approx 12 large golf ball sized balls


3 cups of cold, leftover risotto al nero de seppia
about 1/4 cup-1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella, torn into small pieces
2 eggs, 1 of the yolks separated out
all purpose flour for dredging
about 3/4 cup panko
2 tbls black sesame seeds
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use canola)


Whisk the separated egg yolk and dump into the risotto, making sure it's mixed in thoroughly.

Put a piece of parchment on a cookie tray.

Wet your hands to make working with the risotto a bit easier. You are going to take enough rice to make a big golfball sized ball, roll it roughly, flatten it out against your palm and make a shallow well in the middle. Put a chunk of cheese and then close it over with the rice, rolling it again to make a nice, smooth ball. Place it on the cookie tray and continue until you have used up all of the rice.

Put about 1/2 cup of flour in one shallow bowl, whisk the 1 egg white with the second whole egg in another bowl and then put the panko and sesame seeds in a third. This will be your dredging station.

I like to use my left hand for dredging and egging and keep my right clean for the breadcrumbs or else you get a gummy mess.

Take a ball and roll it gently in the flour until it's coated (give it a shake to get off the excess when you take it out). Next, drop it in the egg and roll it around, pick it up and let the excess drip back into the bowl before you drop it into the panko/sesame seed bowl. Now, shake it around and use your clean, right hand to make sure it's completely coated in bread crumbs before putting it back onto the cookie tray.

When all of the balls are coated, put it back in the fridge for about an hour to let them set up a bit.

When it's time to cook, heat a pot of oil that is deep enough to cover the balls until the oil reaches 350F. Gently lower a couple of rice balls at a time into the oil using a slotted spoon and deep fry until golden, orangey brown (about 4 minutes will probably do it)

Remove to a paper towel lined plate. If you have lots to do, transfer them to a tray in the oven set at 200F to keep them warm until you are all done.

Serve with Smoky Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Smoky Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


1-2 tbls olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 12 oz (340g)  jar of roasted red peppers, chopped roughly
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 cup chicken stock


Heat the olive oil in small saute pan and saute the shallot for a minute or two. Add in the garlic and saute the garlic for another minute. Now add in the peppers and smoked paprika, saute for another couple of minutes. Add in the stock and let it come to a light boil and cook until it starts to reduce a bit, about another 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, let cool for a minute before you pour it into a blender and blend until you have a smooth sauce.

The Week In Yum April 19-25 Luckee, Squid Ink, Late Night Tamales and My Big Lentil Win!

It was not only Easter weekend, but the birthday weekend for The Kid so there was a whole lot of eating going on.

The first stop on our birthday weekend culinary extravaganza was a visit to Luckee, Susar Lee's brand spanking new Chinese restaurant in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel on Wellington. You know, I don't think that Susar Lee has ever actually served straight up Chinese food in the city before?

The first time I ate at one of his restaurants was a million years ago at Lotus, his first, tiny restaurant located in an old house downtown. It was the late 80's and I was in my early twenties and knew NOTHING about fine dining. I would save up my pennies, make a reservation for 1, get all dressed up and go there alone to enjoy a meal like nothing I had ever tasted. I had my first taste of lamb at Lotus. I dined alone because nobody I knew would spend that kind of money on dinner and although I didn't really understand what I was eating, I knew it was special and it ended up being the game changer for me. Lotus changed the way I looked at food and what it could be.

Fast forward to 2014, a slew of restaurants under his belt, here and abroad, and it would appear he has come back, full circle, to his Hong Kong culinary roots with Luckee, an upmarket dim sum restaurant and bar located in a fancy pants boutique hotel. Although he is executive chef, he has assembled a rock star kitchen crew, even bringing over a master dim sum chef from Hong Kong with decades of experience. This is NOT Rol San on Spadina people.

a complimentary salad of cucumber, tofu skin and wood ear mushroom was so good we were fighting over it

You know, I have been eating down and dirty, cheap dim sum for so long that I had forgotten what a perfectly executed har gow can taste like. I had a Chinese friend who always ordered har gow and sui mai first at a new restaurant because if they can't make those properly, there is no point in going any further and I always keep that advice in the back of my mind. It wasn't until we got home that we realized that we never got our sui mai but if the har gow (shrimp dumplings) are any indication, this might be the best dim sum I have ever had.

 Lobster dumplings, fish dumplings and the har gow were all absolutely perfect. They were light and soft and fresh with a lovely, thin rice dough that melted in your mouth but the highlight, for me, was the shrimp cheung fun. These crazy little rolls of shrimp, wrapped in a super thin layer of something very crispy that I mistook for a fried chinese donut roll and then a final wrap of delicate rice noodle are eaten bathed in a soy based sweet sauce. At most dim sum joints, this dish can be oily and heavy, the rice noodle too thick and chewy - not that this stops me from ordering it every single time, of course, but like I said, you get used to just okay dim sum if you eat it long enough. I dont' know what that layer of crisp was but it sent me over the edge and I think I might have embarrassed myself a little bit so I apologize in advance for my behaviour on my next visit.

The other dish that will keep me up at night was the wok fried green beans. Don't let this pedestrian sounding name fool you, these babies are killer beans, wok fried with preserved olive and beautiful big chunks of red chili that don't knock you out with heat but are full of flavour instead. I am already fantasizing about going there for a late night snack of green beans with a cocktail at the beautiful bar.

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The decor is perfect - it's got a fun, old timey feeling with faded wall murals, old fashioned graphics and  nice industrial touches like the asian looking cement blocks give it a downtown vibe.I have not been at night but in the daytime, it is bright and sunny with equally bright and sunny servers. On the weekend there is cart service with a few items offered but it's not quite the same grabbing your sticky rice off of a cart being pushed around by an attractive young waiter when you are used to being ignored by crusty old ladies who are so convinced that you will not want their chicken feet that they refuse to stop at your table, forcing you to chase them down with your little paper clutched in your hot little hands. It's not that it's not a nice touch, it's just kind of weird.
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You will also have to get over the prices, while we are at it. Our dim sum bill was about 3X what a similar meal would cost at a place like Rol San or Perfect but it was also more than 3X better so I am happy to pay for what I am getting. The tea for two and two pops came to $13 which is about 1/3 of the bill of our entire meal at a cheaper place but, again, it was a huge pot of really good black tea.

sticky rice off of the cart
We are not going to stop going to Perfect for our down and dirty, volume first dim sum but we are certainly going to add Luckee to the rotation for a monthly treat of truly excellent food. I am looking forward to our evening visit so that we can have the Luckee Duck, those green beans and some other items off of the non dim sum menu. The menu, by the way, is not long but it reads like Chef Lee took the greatest hits of Chinese food as we know it but executed each one perfectly.

Luckee on Urbanspoon

Thanksgiving dinner turned into a bit of comedy when we realized, at 8pm on Saturday evening, that the turkey I just took out of the freezer to thaw out was a pre-stuffed PC Normandy butter basted turkey that was to be cooked for a hundred hours from frozen and NOT just a good, old PC Normandy butter basted turkey. I have never cooked a pre stuffed turkey from frozen and although I am sure it is a fine thing to do, we were not willing to conduct that particular experiment on Easter Sunday. This meant a key stone cop like run to Loblaws to pay full price for a fresh turkey that we had to frantically dig for since it seemed like every turkey that was under 18 lbs had been purchased already and I had no desire to pay $60 for a ginormous turkey for the four of us (we had only one dinner guest). In the end, we found a wee 13 lb turkey, dinner was saved, Shack got his precious port gravy and all was right with the world. The real reason I was so keen to make a turkey was my desire to turn the leftovers into turkey tamales, which finally happened mid week.

you see delicious, golden brown turkey and I was just seeing future tamales

Along came Monday and The Kid's birthday, proper. He wanted risotto so I gave him this beautiful squid ink risotto with clams, mussels and squid tentacles. This was his first introduction to squid ink anything and since he loves all food that is kind of out of the ordinary, it was the perfect dish. It takes so little to make him happy and I am thrilled to report that even Shack, my picky non squid loving toddler, loved it. He said that he couldn't taste any squid in the rice at all. He looked surprised despite the fact that I had assured him a hundred times that squid ink really only adds a briny saltiness and beautiful colour to a dish.

as tasty as it is pretty

poor kid just wanted to eat his birthday meal but his father insisted on photographing it for me

again, notice the evil eye of death that I am getting when I am not the one preventing him from eating

Of course, the only thing better than risotto is the arancini that happens the next day. The thing that was different this week was the fact that I put on my big girl panties and deep fried them. I didn't pan fry them or bake them, I DEEP FRIED THEM. In enough oil to submerge them. For reals. Nobody died. In fact, everyone was joyous and merry because they were ridiculously delicious. The recipe for these little babies will up monday but I think we liked the arancini even better than the risotto.

Deep fried. In my kitchen. The house still stands.

Finally, at long last, we get to Wednesday which I had designated as tamale day. I had lovingly scraped all of the fat off of my turkey stock and put it aside for the masa, I had delicious turkey stock waiting (I have started doing the stock overnight in a crockpot after making turkey which is genius and it is embarrassing to me that I didn't figure this out years ago), I had pre made a filling of turkey with ancho chili and had cojita cheese on hand. On Tuesday, Shack drove me downtown to Perola to get a giant bag of corn husks so I was 100% ready to spend a leisurely afternoon making tamales. No rush.

The only thing I had to do first was to pop into both campuses of Avalon Montessori, our magical unicorn school, to snap some photos of the little kids doing their  hop a thon to raise money for The Muscular Dystrophy Association. I really only needed two minutes per school because the casa kids at each campus only hop for 2 minutes. Including the drive between schools and time to account for the fact the corralling a bunch of preschoolers never really goes smoothly, and I should be done in about an hour - hour and a half, tops.

Everything was going swimmingly until I got ready to go to the park with the second class and I was asked if I could hang out with them for their recess after they hop since a couple teachers were out sick and they were severely short handed. Of course I can do that. Once I was out there, I was asked if I could come back in and help with lunch and the next thing I knew, I was listening to little readers and getting in trouble for organizing a sing a long of hits from Frozen and it was 2:30pm!

The hop a thon that disrupted my tamales but preschoolers hopping? Come ON, how cute are they??

Like a crazy person, I started a quick soak of the black beans at 3pm because , why would I just use canned like any other sane person in this case? The corn husks had to soak for an hour or so anyway, so I might as well soak some beans at the same time. Then I realized that there were two hours to kill and I hadn't had my walk (I try to walk at least four or five km a day because I am getting old and it's good for me) and so I might as well take a walk now while the beans and husks soak. By the time I got home from my walk, it was getting kind of late so I started gathering my supplies for the tamales.

If you haven't made tamales, can I ask that when you do (and you should) that you try not to make them alone but if you must, try to make them when you are not rushed and in danger of losing light in your dimly lit dining room where you are going to assemble them? In the end, they turned out really well and I am very happy with them but let's just say that dinner was not ready until almost 9pm and I was not looking very fresh by the time I threw a bowl of delicious black bean soup and a couple of tamales at my kid just in time for bed.
turkey tamales that seemed like a good idea at the time
Thursday Shack wanted to go out and grab a bite because he would be working very late on Friday and wanted to just go and hang out with us. We weren't sure where to go so we walked down to Queen St and I popped into Pippin's Tea to see what was going on with their little party they were throwing to thank the members of the Community Cash Mob. The Cash Mob is a new initiative to promote local businesses and to push the idea of shopping/eating locally to my resistent Beach neighbours. Pippins was serving teatinis and it was pretty packed with people so I was just thinking I would come back later when I felt a tug on my arm, only to turn around and see my buddy and city councillor, Mary Margaret McMahon at my side. It was too crowded and loud to chat so we went outside and Shack and I decided to kidnap MM and her trusty right hand man and sidekick, Laurie and whisked them off to My Place for a cocktail and a snack and to catch up.

the tree and people hugging city councillor who is about to be our second term councillor here in Ward 32 
I was pretty sure that I would have nothing more to add because Friday was looking like a pretty nothing day. Shack left for work and wouldn't be home until late and I was just going to make leftover black bean soup and tamales for The Kid. I was busy doing a bunch of nothing when I checked me email, only to discover.........

My cauliflower wings three ways won the grand prize in the Canadian Lentils recipe contest! Holy Carp! Some of you might recall that last year, my classic dal recipe came in second place in their Love My Lentils recipe contest. I was disappointed only because the first place winner got to fly to Saskatchewan and spend a day with Chef Michael Smith but I certainly put my $500 Amazon gift certificate to good use. I thought that I might have a shot winning in one of the categories but had pretty much written off the chance of winning the grand prize - always a bridesmaid and all that jazz. I am absolutely gobsmacked and thrilled that these tasty little babies brought home the big prize.


Oh, I almost forgot, I am doing my first cooking demo at the Musgrave Loblaws on June 5! Come heckle me!

Pin of the week: I have a matcha week coming up and this is my inspiration

Facebook share of the week: I am ahead of the trend!

Instagram of the week: just so pretty and simple

Tweet of the week: 

Risotto Al Nero Di Seppia Is Just Italian for Squid Ink Risotto But It Sounds So Much Prettier

It was the The Kid's 15th birthday and I think I have made it pretty clear that when somebody celebrates a birthday in this house, it's allllll about days of eating whatever the birthday person wants to eat. From our Saturday dim sum feast at Luckee, through to his Saturday night, adult free, all you can eat sushi dinner with a group of his friends all the way to the actual birthday dinner, The Kid got to eat whatever his little heart desired. It also so happens that Easter fell the day before his birthday this year, so a turkey dinner was thrown in there for good measure.

At first, he just requested risotto with either pumpkin pie or a raspberry pie. I got a pumpkin pie for Easter dinner and he was the only one to eat it so the same pie was going to have to do as his birthday dessert and he was A Okay with that but I couldn't pin him down as far as kind of risotto. He said "just plain risotto"

I am NOT making a big bowl of plain risotto for his birthday so after some pushing, he said he would like a clam risotto. I spent the weekend trying to come up with a way to make it a bit more special, since I make clam risotto all the time. Then it came to me. Why I have not used squid ink up until now is a mystery to me since he loves anything that has a bit of a fear factor vibe going on, he loves squid, and it's just so pretty. We picked up the squid ink at our local fishmonger, The Beach Fish House and then went to buy some clams but we ended up with clams, mussels and squid tentacles and the dish finally started to come together in my head.

If you make this, you don't need this much seafood but I wanted to make enough that we would all have some on our risotto but there would still be a big bowl of mussels and clams on the table so that the birthday boy could pig out on them as well. You could certainly get away with half a lb of each if you don't want to serve the majority of them separately.

Don't panic when you first stir in the ink and your rice looks ugly and grey and kind of streaky because it will quickly turn pitch black and velvety. The squid ink doesn't really add a flavour at all, just a briny saltiness and, of course, the beautiful, inky black appearance. Even Shack, who isn't fond of squid at all, loved it and said he couldn't taste any squid taste. The brightness of the gremolata really wakes this rich dish up, so don't skip it.

Next up, squid ink porridge for breakfast! Squid ink congee for lunch! Squid creme brulee for dessert!

Risotto Al Nero Di Seppia Con Frutti Di Mare

serves 4 as main dish

1000ml chicken stock
236ml bottle clam juice

zest from 1 lemon (use a rasp or a fine grater)
1 small handful of parsely, finely minced
1 big clove garlic, finely minced

approx 2 tbls olive oil
2 shallots, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 cup caranoli rice
1/2 cup white wine
2 tsp squid ink
3 tbls butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 shallot, finely minced
1 clover garlic
1 good glug of olive oil
1 large squid tentacle, cut into a few pieces, lengthwise so you end up with four portions. If your tentacles are really small, get four of them and don't cut them up.
1 lb small clams. cleaned
1 lb mussels, cleaned
1/2 cup white wine
juice from 1/2 lemon
pinch kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper

make the gremolata by combining the minced parsley, garlic and lemon zest together in a small bowl and set aside.

to get your seafood ready, rinse your clams and mussels and keep fresh in the fridge in a bowl, covered by a damp cloth until you are ready to cook them. If you need to clean the mussels, do that too although most mussels now come pretty clean.

Combine the chicken stock with the clam juice in a pot on a back burner and let come to a slight simmer, lower heat so that it stays hot but doesn't boil.

In a big , deep pot or pan ( I use my 5qt Le Creuset dutch oven), heat about 2 tbls olive oil over med heat. Saute the shallot for a couple of minutes, add in the garlic, saute another minute, stirring constantly so that it doesn't brown. Add in the rice and stir well, sauteing that for a few minutes until the rice becomes opaque and it totally coated in the oil. Now pour in the white wine, stirring constantly in a nice, slow figure 8 pattern, until the wine is almost totally absorbed. Start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring constantly. You add stock, stir until it is almost entirely absorbed, add another ladle full, stir, add another ladle until the rice is almost done or for about 14 minutes. At that time, stir in the squid ink but be careful with that stuff because it does stain so try not to get it everywhere.

Now, right before you added the ink, you started to heat a deep pan with a lid over med to med high heat. Add the olive oil, garlic and shallot and stir that for a couple of minutes - you want the pan really hot. Throw in the squid tentacles and saute quickly, for only about 1-  2 minutes or until it starts to colour a bit around the edges. Remove immediately to a bowl, squeeze the lemon over it, add a tiny pinch of salt and set aside.

In the same pan, throw in the clams and mussels, the white wine and put the lid on. Bring it to a boil and let them steam in there until they are all opened up, or for about 4 to 5 minutes.

This whole time, you have also been stirring your risotto. You may not be stirring it quite as non stop but you need to either be able to juggle the rice and the seafood or get someone to come into the kitchen and take over the rice for a few minutes while you do the seafood. They should be helping out anyway, right?

Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the clams and mussels to a big bowl and then pour the liquid in the pan into the risotto. Keep stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed into the rice and by this point, it should be fully cooked anyway.

When it's done (it usually takes about 20 minutes from the time you added the rice to the pot), take the pot off of the heat and beat in the butter and cheese with your wooden spoon. This process is called the mantecare and the beating in of the butter and cheese gives the rice a finished, silky, homogeneous gorgeous bowl of risotto as opposed to a bowl of rice swimming in liquid.

To plate, put a cup of rice in a shallow bowl, lay a squid tentacle across the top and surround that with a mixture of clams and mussels (you only use the ones that open fully, discard the unopened ones) and sprinkle a generous pinch of gremolata over the whole thing.

The Week in Yum April 13-19 The Wren, WIlly Wonka But Not a Ton of Eating Going On

my first bloody caesar made with gin and a flourish at the Gastropost Party at Osteria dei Ganzi

This was a lean week, especially in comparison to past weeks where it feels like I barely have time to walk and talk with all the food in mouth stuffery. Really, this is actually a good thing because even I can't just keep eating out every day without some sort of consequences and a week of grazing here and there certainly isn't going to kill me. The boys went away for the weekend without me so that they could have some male bonding time. Shack has been working on the new Guillermo del Toro movie and they were shooting a scene in Kingston so he grabbed The Kid and off they went in search of adventure.

Old Fashioned Split Pea Soup

After I make ham for Easter I am always left with this big, meaty bone and a meaty bone means soup. It's always a toss up between black bean soup or split pea soup because we all love them equally. What with the lentil contest last month, I have been all about the lentils lately so split peas won out this time and I ended up making a straight up, old fashioned split pea soup. 

My grandmother made an insanely good pea soup and my mom said that growing up in her very Catholic household, they ate pea soup and fish every Friday. I didn't have the heart to tell her that pea soup that includes a big old hambone does NOT qualify as meatless but then I realized that vegetarian back then only meant that you didn't plunk an actual hunk of meat on the dinner table. If you only used meat in the broth, you were good to go for Friday so meaty soup and fish was the go to meatless meal in most French Canadian homes. 

The only thing I did that differed from the split soup I would have eaten growing up was to use half green split peas and half yellow and I do prefer it that way. Sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel.

Split Pea Soup


glug of olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ham bone with lots of ham still on it
1 cup green split peas
1 cup yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
fresh thyme
2 litres chicken stock
3/4 to 1 cup  water


heat the olive oil over med heat and sauté the celery, carrot, onion and garlic for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it and don't let it burn but it will start to take on some colour and caramelize if you let it cook down that long and that will give the soup more flavour.
Add the split peas and the ham bone, the thyme and the bay leaves and then cover with stock and keep adding water until the ham bone is submerged. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium low and let it cook at a low simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The split peas should be soft and the meat will be falling off the bone of the ham. If the soup seems too thick at, say, the halfway point, you can add a bit more water. I don't like my soup to be crazy thick so I keep an eye on it.
At that point, remove the bay leaves and the  ham bone and let it cool enough that you can use your fingers to pull of all of the meat. Discard all of the fat you find and shred the meat and add it back into the soup but first take out about half of the soup and puree it and then add it back to the pot. THEN add the meat back in.

Beet Risotto

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love making risotto and to me, it's something I often resort to when I am out of food, have no ideas and if dinner isn't served within the hour, I am going to have children's services knocking at my door. I know that to some people it is an intimidating, special occasion dish but to me, it's cooking for dummies.

At it's most desperate - I mean simple, it's just a cup or so of arborio rice, whatever vegetable I find lying at the bottom of the crisper, scrape the ice off of a handful of frozen shrimp or the last dregs from the bag of peas that I found when I was scrounging around in the freezer for the shrimp, a carton of low sodium chicken broth, a bit of butter and fresh parmesan and dinner is on the table in half an hour. Out of white wine? Use some beer or port or sherry or skip that part altogether.  Sure, you are chained to the stove for 20 minutes of constant stirring but that also means you are forced to drink the white wine you just opened for the rice while you stand there stirring and you really need to take a few minutes to yourself and you know what? You have no choice but to just ignore everyone and stir up a simple pot of rice that slowly morphs into something magical right before your eyes. This is some sorcerous  food alchemy, people. All you really have to do is stir it.

I knew I was going to make risotto ahead of time but I had no idea what kind until I saw these beets at the market. The beets were tiny and adorable and the greens looked so bright. I mean, just look at those pretty pink stalks. Who could resist? I do make a beet risotto but I usually grate the raw beets and stir them into the rice and they cook in there, turning the entire thing bright pink like this but I didn't feel like doing that this time.  Instead, I sauteed the greens separately with some pancetta and precooked the beets as well, only adding them to the top of the finished risotto. I did cook a handful of the stalks in with the rice but they didn't colour the rice at all. The other way is easier and less work but this way is worth the effort.

Beet Risotto

serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side


1 bunch of small beets (approx 5), including greens
Olive oil (approx 3 tbls total)
1 clove garlic, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
50 gram pancetta, chopped
1 leek, chopped, including green part
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine, divided (pinot grigio works well)
about 6 cups chicken stock (if you start running out while you cook, just add a bit of water)
3 tbls pesto
2 tbls butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
a tbls chopped fresh basil per serving


Cut the beets off of the stalks. Peel them and slice them into thin coins, about 1/8" thick.
Heat a small pan over med heat and add about a tbls of olive oil when the pan gets nice and hot. Fry the beet coins for a few minutes, adding a pinch of kosher salt and then a bit of water - just enough to coat the bottom of the pan- cover it, lower the heat to med-low and let them steam for about 10 minutes. When they are done a fork should go in easily. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

cut the bottom of the stalks from the part that has leaves on it. Wash those stalks and chop them roughly and set aside. Do the same with the leafy part and set those aside as well.

Heat another pan over med to med high heat and saute the pancetta until it starts getting crispy. Add in the garlic and saute for another minute. Now add in the chopped leafy stalks and saute for about 3-5 minutes, just  until the greens are wilted and just cooked, check for salt and add a pinch as needed, remove to a bowl and set aside.
Put the chicken stock in a pot on a back burner and get it hot, but not quite simmering and keep it like that.
Now to start the risotto. Heat another tbls of olive oil in a deep pan or pot. I use my 5 quart Le Creuset pot. Whatever you use needs to accommodate the finished amount of rice, so keep that in mind. Saute the leeks for about 3 minutes. Throw in those chopped stalks (the bottom part that was closest to the beet) and sauted for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Push all of those solids aside, add one more tbls of olive oil and put the rice in the pot, stirring it around for a couple of minutes, trying to avoid the leeks/stalks as much as you can before finally just mixing it all together and keep stirring that around for another minute. Now pour in 3/4 cup of the wine and stir consistently until it's mostly absorbed. From this point on, you are going to stir pretty much constantly (making a figure 8 is a good plan) and you will keep adding stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring, when it is absorbed, add another ladle, stir etc etc
You will do this for about 20 minutes. You must taste from the 15 minute mark every few minutes to make sure you don't overcook the rice. It should have a nice bite to it but not crunchy but the 20 minutes will bring it to where it needs to be. The odd batch of rice might be ready a couple of minutes earlier or take a couple minutes longer so taste. When you are happy with the texture and think it's done, stir in the pesto and the last 1/4 cup white wine and stir it around for another minute.
Remove the pot from the burner, add in the butter and the parmesan and, with your wooden spoon, stir that in quite vigorously until the butter is melted and it's all nicely incorporated and creamy. Cover the pot and leave it for a minute while you go get your beet coins and the greens you have set aside.
Ladle rice into a shallow bowl and top with a spoonful of beet greens and some of the beet coins, scatter the fresh basil over the top and serve.

The Week In Yum April 5-12 Patois, Weslodge, The Beech Tree Pub, Ackroyd's and TheWren

OG Fried Chicken and Pickled Watermelon at the Patios Popup 

spekulas butter pancakes fit for a young king who doesn't have to worry about things like spekulas butter

On Saturday we had one of those days where The Kid got up late, we ran around doing things and suddenly realized it was mid afternoon and nobody had eaten yet (apart from The Kid and his spekulas pancake). Yes, even in this family we often forget to eat. The only solution was to retreat to one of our favourite neighbourhood haunts, The Wren, on the The Danforth. The Kid had the calamari sandwich, just like he has for the last couple of visits and Shack had a burger but I wanted to try something new. I ordered the Green Chili Chicken, which turned out to be a nicely spicy, soupy stew of chicken, onion and mushrooms, topped with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. I wasn't loving the grilled flatbread that came with it and next time I will order it and ask for tortilla chips on the side instead. It was very tasty and very filling so I took half of it home and turned it into lunch burritos for The Kid so we all won. It's the first time we have been there for lunch and it was kind of nice. It wasn't busy at all, we asked if the music could be turned down a bit and it was much more relaxed than eating there at dinner when it's packed and loud. Don't get me wrong, I love that it's always packed and loud and fun but sometimes it's good to just sit and chat and relax. I remain so happy that The Wren exists right here in the east end of the city.

The Great Canadian Food Experience - My Canadian Producer is Walter Caesar

The only thing more Canadian than clamato juice is maybe beaver tails, Molson Canadian and maple syrup even though up until now, Clamato juice automatically has meant  US based Mott's Clamato Juice. When you go to the States and try to order a bloody Caesar, you tell them it's basically a bloody mary but with clamato juice instead of tomato. Then, you have to explain what clamato juice is and then the groans and gags start. CLAM JUICE???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

If you sat one of those naysayers down and served them a proper bloody caesar without revealing the wonders of clamato to them, I am positive that they would drink their glass dry without a second thought. I can understand that it's hard to get past the clam juice in a cocktail thing but I grew up drinking clamato juice and I love it, straight up on ice, in a cocktail or as a virgin caesar. I am more about the clamato than the vodka, frankly.

Now, as a person who cares about what they eat and tries to avoid preservatives, too much hidden sugar etc, Motts Clamato had become a guilty pleasure, sort of like Nacho Cheese Doritos. I know it's full of crap but I love it so I just don't indulge all that often and pretend I don't know what's in it.

Enter Walter. Walter Caesar mix is Canada's first all natural craft caesar mix and it's delicious. They can't call it clamato because that's trademarked by Motts, but,  much like all facial tissue is called kleenex, it's clamato to me but without msg, artificial flavours or glucose/fructose.  It's made in small batches and housed in glass bottles instead of the more common plastic bottle.

Aaron Harowitz, a design consultant by trade, and Zack Silverman were longtime friends who shared a loved of a good caesar while they were both at the University of British Columbia. Because they didn't really want to be drinking all those undesirable additives but were not about to give up their favourite cocktail, they had no choice but to create their own, all natural replacement for the most important ingredient - the clam/tomato juice. Their company, Brutus Beverages, had a baby in 2013 and they named him Walter.

The name, Walter, is a tribute to all of the great Walters throughout history and I am sure it is no coincidence that the Caesar was invented by Calgary restaurateur, Walter Chell in 1969 to celebrate the opening of a new Italian eatery. Chell claimed to be inspired by a dish of spaghetti vongole that he had eaten on a trip to Venice. He said he had always thought that the mixture of tomato and clam would make a great cocktail and he spent months perfecting what would eventually become known as the Bloody Caesar. Coincidentally, the American based company, Motts, was developing their clamato juice at the very same time but sales were sluggish until they got wind of Chell's Bloody Caesar and by 1994, 70% of their sales of Clamato were as the mix for caesars and half of those sales occurred in Western Canada.

So, fast forward to today and we have this great, young Canadian company where two guys are taking on the established, American, big money manufacturer of a Canadian institution in order to reclaim it. Conceived in Vancouver, brewed in Toronto, with eventual plans to be available all over the country.
It's a great Canadian style David and Goliath story, complete with a very polite, well mannered David.

Walter Facebook Page

When I first reviewed Walter, I cooked with it, using it in cabbage rolls with great success, if I do say so myself. This time I decided to try a couple of cocktails. Nobody needs me to write out the recipe for a Bloody Caesar because most Canadians can make a decent caesar by the time they can understand "two fingers!" so I started experimenting with other flavours and came up with one that is original and one that is adapted.

I really liked the idea of straining the pulp out of the Walter for a more refined, martini like cocktail for times when I want something a little lighter than a caesar and then, since I am obsessed with aji amarillo and all things Peruvian right now, I came up with my own version of a Bloody Caesar.

Both drinks use Pisco, a potent South American brandy derived from grapes instead of the more expected vodka and I replaced the tobasco with a Peruvian hot sauce made from aji amarillo, the fiery yellow pepper synonymous with Peruvian cuisine.

MVP Caesar (Most Valuable Peruvian)

2 oz (1/4 cup)Pisco
6 oz (3/4 cup) Walter (spicy if you want it very spicy and mild if you don't)
1/4 tsp salsa de aji molido  (or more to taste)
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 oz (1 tbls) pickle juice

Pickle and pickled green bean for garnish
crushed coarse salt to rim

this is what the aji amarillo hot sauce looks like

Wet the rim of the glass and press it into the coarse salt that you crush up in a pestle and mortor. I used a pink sea salt but use what you have.

Mix the Walter, the aji amarillo, lime and pickle juice and pour over ice into a glass. Add in the Pisco, stir well and garnish with a slice of dill pickle and a pickled green bean.
Makes 1 drink

Pisco Wally
adapted from Measure and Stir

1.5 oz (3 tbls) strained Walter Mild
1.5 oz (3 tbls) Pisco
1/4 oz (1/2 tbls) simple syrup
1/2 oz (1 tbl tbls) lime juice
pinch coarse salt
dash bitters
1 oz (2 tbls) soda water

if you don't have a coffee filter, you can use 1 ply of a paper towel sheet in a pinch.Shhhh don't tell on me

To strain the Walter, put a coffee filter in a strainer and pour in the Walter. Let it strain for at least an hour. You can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until you need it.

Mix the Walter, Pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, bitters and coarse salt in a shaker full of ice and strain into a glass. Top up with approx 1 oz or 2 tbls of soda water.

The Week In Yum March 29-April 4 Trader Joe's, Lamesa, Boots and Bourbon and Tabule

a million tulips from my friend, PJ

Saturday was my birthday. Not just any birthday either because on Saturday, I turned 50 for god's sake. FIFTY
birthday gifts and my beloved Neighours decorated my door
There I am, sitting at the half century mark and how do I choose to celebrate? Do I go for a huge party where we gather all of my friends, past and present and drink champagne till the sun comes up? Do I demand to be flown to NYC so that I can be standing on the top of the Empire State Building at the stroke of midnight and howl into the wind "YOU KNOW NOTHING JOHN SNOW!"

Mexico and Greece Had a Baby and It's Called Chili Verde Pastitsio

In conjunction with my Misura giveaway, I was given the task of coming up with a recipe featuring some of their products. As soon as I saw this sedani pasta, I knew what I wanted to make immediately and so they sent me some pasta and a bag of whole wheat rusks, which are perfect for bread crumb making. Back when I first started blogging, one of my first dishes was a chili verde lasagna. One  of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to participate in my friend's month long lasagna challenge. Jen, from Piccante Dolce, was hosting this challenge and she encouraged me to start food blogging so I took that opportunity to try the whole thing out back in November of 2010. Clearly, it worked out well because here I am, carrying the torch, although Jen has taken some time off to start a family. The other dish I made for this challenge was pastitsio, which is kind of like Greek lasagna. For years I have been toying with the idea of doing a bunch of fusion style pastitsios but I just never get around to it. I really like the construction of the dish but I don't love the flavours of the traditional version. Sometimes you just need a push to force you to do things.

So, on to the dish. Making a traditional pastitsio is not hard, but it's time consuming and it dirties up every dish in your kitchen so I was looking for a way to make the whole process a bit easier and something you could actually do in a reasonable amount of time. The first thing I did was make the chili verde ahead of time. I just set aside 2 1/2 cups of it and froze it, labeling it so I would remember that it was for the pastitsio and we ate the rest of it that week like we always do, over rice like a stew. I also cut my original recipe pretty much in half because it's a heavy dish and we just don't need to make a giant try to feed a dozen people very often.

Fast forward to pastitstio time and I took the chili verde out of the freezer and let it thaw out all day while I went about my business. About 2 hours before dinner time, I cooked the pasta, drained it and let it cool while I grated the cheese, whizzed the rusks, made the bechamel and buttered my dish. Now, all I had to do was mix the cooled pasta with the egg and bechamel, build the dish and pop it in the oven. You can even cook the pasta earlier in the day or even the day before but let it sit out while you do the other stuff so it can come to room temperature. Suddenly pastitsio is doable mid week and not just something you make on the weekend when you can commit to a few hours in the kitchen.

I am going to be perfectly honest with you here. This stuff was even better than I thought it would be and I think I prefer this version over the traditional Greek, spiced meat filling. Sorry Greece. SΣυγγνώμη φίλοι μου. The acidic tartness of the tomatillos is totally mellowed out by the rich bechamel sauce and it doesn't feel as heavy as it does with the meat filling.

This sedani was fabulous in this dish. The shape is perfect and because whole wheat pasta is heartier than white, it really holds it shape, even after an hour of baking. I usually use penne, which is fine, but the sedani's straight cut ends make constructing the dish easier and I could push it around and fill the corners neatly. The only person who noticed that there was something up with the pasta was Shack, but he is my toughtest customter so just the fact that he happily ate it up without only a hint of grumble is actually a big deal. He usually won't even eat anything I make with whole wheat pasta, to be perfectly honest. The rusks that I used make great dry bread crumbs and I buzzed up the whole package and put it in a jar and have been using it ever since.

This is now our official way to use up the leftover chili verde from now on.

Don't forget to enter the contest, if you haven't, for a chance at winning your own $100 gift package from Misuras line of healthy biscuits, pasta and crackers.

*I was asked to develop a recipe using Misura products and they gave me the pasta and the rusks to use but my opinions are my own.

Chili Verde Pastitsio

serves 4-6

1/2 lb (250g) Misura sedani or some other tube shaped pasta
2 eggs, beaten lightly
2 tbls freshly grated parmesan
1/2 cup bechamel

4 tbls butter
5 tbls flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp peppercorns
4 heaping tbls freshly grated parmesan
1/4 to 1/2 tsp kosher salt
ten grinds of black pepper

For Final Assembly:
1 tbls soft butter
2 1/2 cups chili verde
1 1/2 cups bechamel
3 tbls Misura Whole Wheat Rusk crumbs (or dried bread crumbs)
2 tbls freshly grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350F

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta for about 11 minutes or according to package directions. You want it el dente because if it is too soft, it will not hold it's shape nicely. Drain and let cool.

Crush the rusks to make crumbs either in a food processor or by putting them in a bag and crushing them with a rolling pin or something. The food processor works much better.

Make the bechamel by heating the milk with the bay leaf and peppercorns in it over med-low heat until it's about 150F. In another pot over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for about three minutes. Strain the hot milk and slowly start to ladle the hot milk into the flour, whisking constantly to make sure it stays smooth. I just started to pour it in small amounts through a strainer right from one pot to the other which dirties one less vessel. It's up to you. Keep doing this until all of the milk is incorporated and continue to whisk and cook until it's nice and thick, another 3 to 5 minutes. This makes a very thick bechamel so don't worry. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the cheese and /14 tsp kosher salt and pepper, taste and add a bit more salt if needed.

Put the drained pasta in a bowl and mix it with the two beaten eggs, 2 tbls parmesan and about 1/2 cup of the bechamel.

Now, butter the bottom and sides of your baking dish. This fit perfectly into a 6 Cup (1.5L) rectangular baking dish. Spread half of the pasta over the bottom of the dish, making sure you push it around so that it gets into the corners. Now put the chili verde over the top of that and spread that evenly, right to the edges. Cover the chili verde with the rest of the pasta , again making sure it covers all the way into the corners. Now start putting your bechamel over the top, spreading it with a spatula, until it completely covers the top layer. This came right up to the top of my dish, which is fine.
Last but not least, mix the Rusk or bread crumbs and the parmesan and sprinkle that liberally over the top of the whole thing.

Put the dish in the middle rack of the oven and cook it for an  hour. Remove from the oven and let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes before cutting into it. It is meant to be eaten warm or at room temperature and it needs time to set up.

The WIndup Bird Cafe - Much More Than Just a Restaurant

After taking The Kid to his high school for afternoon parent teacher meetings, I left the east end and ventured back out to attend the media launch for The Windup Bird Cafe at 382 College St, just west of Caplansky's. Even though this area of the city is my old stomping grounds, I couldn't picture where the restaurant was in my head and as I walked up to it, I almost walked right by. I realized that I could not, for the life of me, recall what had been in the space previously. All I knew was that whatever resided at this address before was NEVER this bright, cheerful and warm. Once inside, my table mates and I wracked our brains in an attempt to recall any of the actual businesses that might have occupied this spot and all we could remember were fuzzy recollections of sketchy coffee shops and eateries of unknown origin. This place is something new and fresh, more than just a place to grab a bite and I am looking forward to watching where they take it over time. 

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