Rhubarb-Tarragon Strudel (Or, How I Went into Labour)


It wasn’t the plan, but I was reading a food magazine when my contractions started. Here’s the thing. Every pregnant woman has a “birth plan” in her head, even if she won’t admit it. Mine was more like a “birth fantasy”, if you will. A fantasy that, statistically speaking, would NEVER HAPPEN. Kind of like a “winning the lottery” fantasy, the one where you take all your friends to the Maldives for a month before a luxury safari in Tanzania followed by buying your dream home in the south of France. There was a better chance of all of that happening than there was of my birth fantasy coming true: power walking around Quidi Vidi lake on a warm March afternoon to induce labour, breathing and pushing an hour later at the hospital to “Bad Girls” by M.I.A. followed by a surprisingly quick and drug-free childbirth.

I know. I was that pregnant lady. I was even annoying to myself.

The reality. Me on the sofa reading a food magazine and my contractions starting 2 minutes apart. Barking orders at Justin and my mom to “GET MY FLIP FLOPS OUT OF MY GYM BAG AND PUT THEM IN THE HOSPITAL BAG I NEED MY FLIP FLOPS.” Driving to the hospital thinking “WTF who does this without drugs.” Hobbling across the parking lot holding onto Justin while repeating, “I’m definitely getting the epidural.” Not in the door two minutes screaming at the nurses, “get me the epidural” etc. etc. Which, by the way, along with finally getting an ice cream maker, was the best decision of my life.




I will obviously spare you the rest of the details because this is a food blog, even though women love telling their delivery stories because COME ON how could you not, look at what you just did, sister! But I recently had a go at the recipe I guess you could say induced my labour. I was looking at a picture of this exact strudel when my contractions started, which is kind of cool. And that, my friends is the weirdest sentence I have ever written.

So if any of you happen to be pregnant, I share with you all my best wishes for a quick and painless delivery, complete with all the drugs and pineapple popsicles you can handle (no seriously, get the epidural, if your kid’s head is as big as mine’s is, you’ll need one).



Rhubarb-Tarragon Strudel (from the April 2016 edition of Food Network Magazine)

For the compote:

2 sprigs tarragon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used 4 cups)

For the strudel:

6 oz cream cheese (I used one standard 226g package)
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for topping
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
7 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, clarified*
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp granulated sugar, plus more for topping

*To clarify butter (prevents strudel from getting soggy), melt it over medium-low heat until the milk solids separate and rise to the top, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool, then skim off the white foam and discard. Spoon the remaining clear butter into a bowl, and discard the solids left at the bottom of the pan.

1. Make the compote: Combine the tarragon sprigs, granulated sugar and 1 3/4 cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rhubarb, reduce the heat to low and cook until softened but not falling apart, about 3 minutes. Strain the rhubarb over a bowl, reserving the liquid (keep the rhubarb in the strainer to drain completely while assembling the strudel).

2. Make the strudel: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pulse the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, flour and vanilla seeds in a food processor until just combined.

3. Lay out 1 phyllo sheet on a clean dry surface (keep remaining phyllo covered with a slightly damp kitchen towel). Brush lightly with the clarified butter and sprinkle with 1 tsp of chopped tarragon and 1/2 tsp granulated sugar. Layer another sheet of phyllo on top with more butter, tarragon and granulated sugar. Repeat the layering with the remaining phyllo; do not top the final sheet. Cut the stack of phyllo in half crosswise. Reserve the remaining clarified butter (about 1 tbsp).

4. Put each phyllo on a piece of parchment paper that’s slightly larger than the stack. Position the stacks with the long sides facing you. Divide the cream cheese mixture between the stacks, spreading it in a 2-inch-wide strip along the edge closest to you; leave a 1-inch border at the bottom and the sides. Spoon the rhubarb pieces over the cream cheese filling. Starting from the side closest to you, use the parchment to lift the phyllo and roll tightly around the filling to make two logs; arrange seam-side down. Transfer the strudels (on the parchment) to a baking sheet.

5. Brush the strudels with the reserved clarified butter and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the reserved rhubarb liquid to a boil in a saucepan. reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until syrupy, about 15 minutes.

6. Let the strudels cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Slide the strudels (on the parchment) onto a rack; let cool 45 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and drizzle with the rhubarb syrup.



Here’s what went wrong, because that’s what happens sometimes with recipes (and birth plans ha). I chucked the rhubarb in with the water and sugar before reading the recipe and realizing I had to bring the sugar water to a boil before adding the rhubarb. No biggie, I don’t think it made much of a difference. But I did overcook the rhubarb, it really does only take 3 minutes because it cooks again in the oven. I’m not sure about that whole “don’t top the final phyllo sheet” business…when I tried to spread on the thick cream cheese mixture the top layer started to rip because it was dry. So I’d say top the last layer if you have enough. Which I didn’t, so brushing the completed strudels was done with regular microwave-melted butter because who’s going to clarify another batch when you’ve been at this three hours? I had to read the fourth step about a dozen times before I could work my brain around it. I may have had to google “crosswise” and found this handy dandy article which was very helpful except I was cutting phyllo and not brussels sprouts. And what if my phyllo was turned the other way around around, hmmm? What would happen then, Food Network? It’s safe to say I’ll never work at NASA. Anyway. Cut your phyllo down the long side.



I need to bake desserts in my awful oven at around 225°F, so it took closer to an hour instead of 20 minutes. Keep that in mind if you have an infuriatingly hot oven like mine, because the bottom of the strudel will darken quickly and the rest will be soggy. And I left off the icing sugar because really, you don’t need it with sugar sprinkled on top and then syrup.




The biggest almost-disaster was not realizing how tall my kid is. There were two of us on duty and I still almost lost the nearly-completed phyllo layers from the kitchen table in the five seconds there wasn’t a set of eyes on Jude the Destroyer.



I won’t lie, this one was a bit of an effort. I haven’t attempted a recipe this herculean since long before baby was born. And it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can throw together while simultaneously trying to keep a toddler from eating things out of the garbage can. But even with all the mistakes, it was beautiful. Definitely the kind of dessert you can afford to mess up a little and call it rustic. I love weird sweet-herby dessert combinations, but cut back on the tarragon if you’re scared, or leave it out completely (but don’t, it’s so lovely and licorice-y). This recipe makes such an obscene amount of strudel we had to give a chunk away, ate it three nights in a row for dessert, and still had some left to put in the freezer. And that worked out too, warmed low and slow in the oven a couple of weeks later. Imagine dying for something sweet some night and thinking there’s nothing in the house and then remembering there’s something in your freezer that’s flaky and made with cream cheese and rhubarb. That moment of realization alone was worth the three hours of strudel construction. With a cup of decaf Tetley before bedtime? Come on. Or similarly, make it a few weeks in advance of some dinner party you’re hosting. You can defrost it before everyone arrives, and they’ll show up with sweet strudel smells wafting out the front door to greet them. Everyone’s impressed with what you’ve just accomplished and no one’s the wiser. Hey, kind of like getting the epidural and not telling anybody afterwards! Either way, you end up with a great dessert/baby.

Happy cooking, badasses.



Hand Line Cod Curry


Food, how I’ve missed you. I have a friend with two kids who told me when I was still pregnant that it sure was a good idea I bought an espresso machine because soon coffee and food would be my only joys in life. I thought, jeez, that’s kind of harsh. What about the sweet little bundle of joy I was incubating? It was only after I had a kid that I realized she was the only mom-pal I had who TOLD THE TRUTH. Oh, man. Babies. And wow, was I ever one of those smug non-parents who thought I would actually get stuff done after I had one. It wasn’t like I was having twins, how messy could my house get? I would just clean when the baby napped. I would write when the baby napped! I’d swaddle it in a fuzzy blanket decorated with yellow ducks and it would sleep in a ray of sunshine on the bed in my office for at least three hours at a time while I wrote a blog a week and finished a novel. Sure I’d be a bit tired, but that’s what my brand new espresso machine was for. My baby would watch, fascinated, perched in its bouncy chair on the kitchen table while I basically did everything I did before I had a kid. Except get drunk by myself and stuff, obviously. But I refused to let a baby change my cooking and eating habits.

Hahahahaha, I was such an idiot. I wish all you parents out there had told me how babies actually work. The first two months I only had time to breastfeed, cry, eat one meal a day, or some weird combination of all three. Getting changed out of my bathrobe was kind of a big deal, and a shower happened three times a week if I was lucky. I can’t even wrap my head around how people have twins, I definitely would have had to give one away. I conveniently forgot my house was always messy before I got pregnant, so how I thought that would magically change after a human came out of me is anyone’s guess. Naps for baby meant the two of us in bed, me bum-patting with one hand, head-rubbing with the other, and singing Baby Beluga for an hour so the both of us could get twenty minutes sleep. And if I left that bouncy chair unattended to make a piece of toast this is what happened:


Also, “it” turned out to be a little boy, even though everyone told us we were having a girl. Except a Turkmenistani lady at the International Food Fair last November who gave me free meatballs when she saw I was pregnant, looked me up and down and told me very seriously I was having a boy. And that espresso machine? I didn’t learn how to use it until the baby was sitting up on his own. But is he ever friggin’ sweet. And after a few months of figuring each other out, he’s a joy in my life, too. After coffee and food. I kid! Of course he’s number one. Number two on days he’s teething. And has ripped a tile off the fireplace when you weren’t looking to soothe his aching gums.


I can count on one hand and remember in excruciating detail the meals Justin and I ate together in the first three months of Jude’s life, on the rare occasion he slept by himself (not joking, three of them: one Piatto pizza, ribs and potato salad, veg fried rice with sunny side egg on top and hot sauce). I made a cod curry one Sunday evening when he was maybe a month and a half old. He was taking this crazy five-hour nap, one of those baby naps where you can get stuff done (like sleep) except you’re so freaked out the baby’s napping longer than a half hour you’re too afraid to do anything except run up the stairs every ten minutes to make sure he’s still breathing. I finally got it together long enough to get a curry on the go and he woke up as soon as we sat down to eat, of course. But it gave us hope that maybe he’d sleep like that again later that night, or maybe even the next day.

(It took him two more months to sleep more than five hours and I hope there are teenagers reading this who I’m scaring shitless into celibacy.)

Justin had spent some time on Fogo Island a few months earlier shooting a film about hand lining cod (check out the trailer for it, it’s been featured at festivals all over the world, won some awards, it’s so lovely) and came home with a few boxes he’d caught while he was out with the fishermen. It had been flash-frozen, and I generally save frozen cod for tacos or curries, going a bit purist when the fish is fresh and pan-frying it old-school. I made the Fogo cod in a baked Thai curry but I have a feeling it would have pan-fried really well…even though it had been in the freezer for a few months it was up there with the best cod I’d ever eaten.


This recipe is super quick and easy, very loosey-goosey…definitely not authentic-authentic in the way a good Thai curry should be, with painstakingly gathered fresh ingredients all pound into an honest-to-goodness curry paste. Last I checked it was virtually impossible to do this in St. John’s unless I’m behind the times in which case someone please let me know where I can get fresh lemongrass and the rest of it. But it’ll give you your Thai fix, you can do it in a half hour (pretty convenient, especially if you’re trying to keep a tiny new human alive), and the ingredients are fairly easy to find in these parts.




In a medium saucepan combine two cans of coconut milk, 1 heaping tablespoon of your favourite ready-made Thai curry paste, 1 tablespoon of soya sauce, 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce, half a teaspoon of ground turmeric, the juice of half a lime, and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Throw in a stalk of lemongrass and a couple of kaffir lime leaves (if you can’t find, curry will still be nice) and let the whole thing come to a boil, then let simmer for a few minutes. Place 2 (or 3 if you like less sauce with your curry) fresh or thawed cod fillets in a 8×10 Pyrex dish and pour the sauce over top, leaving in the lemongrass and lime leaves. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily. Serve with rice, chopped coriander, and lime wedges.




Again, this is all to taste and you can play around with the sauce before committing to anything. It might need more or less sugar or fish sauce, or a bit more lime juice depending on personal preference and the brand of curry paste you’re using. Add in another tablespoon of the paste if you want a stronger, spicier curry. I’ve done red, green and yellow, all delicious. Try palm sugar instead of brown if you can get your hands on it (the So Kee Grocery on Duckworth should carry most of these ingredients if you’re in St. John’s, including frozen lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves) and a bit of grated fresh turmeric instead of powdered is always nice, and I’ve heard you can actually get it around here these days.

This curry takes about a half hour, and hilariously, this blog took me over a year to write. But it all evens out in the end. Just like your new baby will when you think you’ll never eat without a tiny human in your arms ever again.

Or sleep. Or read a book. Or drink a full coffee without having to reheat it in the microwave five times throughout the course of a day. But you’ll get there. Eventually. I mean, it only took me fifteen months to finally get out of my maternity jeans. Happy cooking!! xo


Eat Your Cake Now Because We’re All Screwed


Well, now. Who saw that coming? Like, who actually, really, honest-to-goodness saw that coming. It’s like, if someone had said to me a few weeks ago, “Hey Willow, Dr. Teeth from The Muppet Show will be president-elect on November 9th”, I would have spit my drink in your face laughing and we all would have had a good hardy-har-har then got a sub on the way home. But then it happened. Except it’s worse.

I don’t want to mention any names because this is a food blog. I loooove shooting my mouth off about politics, but it’s different when you’re drinking with your friends or yelling at the television with your dad. But as soon as you put things online there are sad trolly-types googling stuff and looking to cause trouble and hey, they get hungry too and maybe they’re looking for a curry recipe or something. Well, umm…maybe not a curry recipe. Anyhoo.

(Is president-elect supposed to be capitalized because I’M NOT DOING IT.)




I’ve been working on a blog for months now, trying to eek out a few sentences in between getting thrown up on and singing Baby Beluga thirty-eight times a day. But then the world woke up to the orange billionaire version of their least favourite drunk uncle being handed the keys to the White House and it seemed a bit trite to post some chirpy blog about being a tired new mom. Suddenly, nothing else mattered except cake. All I wanted to do was drop everything and bake something for no other reason than I craved comfort and chocolate and distraction from disbelief that a man-child with a golden toilet got elected president of the most powerful country on earth.

Okaaaaay, so I like to stress eat. I mean, I love to stress eat. I wish I could transfer that into something a bit healthier like going for a run or journaling or woodworking. But who felt like strapping on a pair of sneakers or breaking out the old power jointer after that shitshow of an election night? After an ugly-cry and a cuddle-chat with my baby about the importance of him being a good feminist, I had to make a cake. I was obsessed with making a cake, and not a quick-fix mix either (with obvious respect and love for the quick fix), but a luxurious, homemade chocolate cake in one of those glass cake stands. So I wouldn’t have to cover it with cling wrap and ruin the icing and it could sit on the counter for a week (hahahaha) with the sun glinting off the glass. And I wanted cream cheese icing. Not an icing traditionally paired with chocolate, but think how good chocolate cheesecake is, so why doesn’t this combination happen more often? I would make this happen, but first I needed to run out and buy some cream cheese. And one of those glass cake stands.




I wanted this cake stand in my life so bad I broke my “No Mall after October 31st” rule and ended up pulling in early enough I could easily find a parking space, and let me tell you, I was feeling pretty goddamn pleased with myself for being so on top of things. I think I’d even managed to do the dishes before I’d left the house and taken a sho- haha of course I hadn’t taken a shower. Anyways, I wasn’t thinking (I have an 8-month old, rarely happens) and EVERY RETIRED GRANDMOTHER had taken the bus to the mall to go Christmas shopping and every single one of them were in the kitchenware aisle at Winners, practically tossing Le Creuset lids at each other in search of the perfect reindeer oven mitts or whatever, I don’t know. No fancy cake stands there so I popped over to the relative cool and calm of Stokes, the store I avoid like the plague because it’s full of stuff I really want but don’t reeeeally need. Like cake stands! Poof, done, thirty bucks, in and out, later grammas. After stopping at Laura Secord to buy four French mint chocolate bars to calm my nerves, of course.


When I got home I held my mother-in-law hostage while the baby was napping, in case he woke up and I was mid-cake. I wanted this done and under the dome by suppertime, and if nap time ended early I would have had to drop everything and pay attention to him like he was an 8-month old or something. Babies are sooooooo needy. But because this recipe is so fast and easy, Squirtface slept through cake and cream cheese icing, and more importantly, slept through me having to share licking the beaters or bowl with him. I haven’t quite figured out how that will work when he’s old enough to realize what’s going on. Always baking during nap time? Hiding in the closet with the bowl while he’s loading the dishwasher for me? I’ll get back to you. I suppose I could…share. Jesus. Again, with the needy youngsters.

I’m not really sure where this recipe originally came from…it’s been in my family for years and it’s still my mom’s go-to. We used to eat it after Sunday dinner right out of the oven with hot custard. An old Hershey cookbook, maybe? Hmmm. If they’re reading this they’ll hopefully be too busy to take legal action because everyone in America will be stress eating so much chocolate Hershey won’t have time to look up from their golden thrones.

Mom’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp EACH baking soda and baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk (2% or 3.25%)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Sift dry ingredients together. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat with a mixer on medium speed until mixed well. Add boiling water last, stirring with a large spoon or whisk until mixture is smooth. Batter will be very thin. Bake at 350° in a greased 9×13 pan for 35-40 minutes, or two standard round cake pans for around 30 minutes. Cake tester or toothpick should come out clean when inserted in middle of the cake.

Cream Cheese Icing (from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, Simon and Schuster, 2009)

1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces
3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using.

(This recipe is halved from the original in the book, and it’s more than enough to generously ice the chocolate cake when baked in 2 standard round cake pans)



If you’ve never baked a cake, homemade or not, this is your recipe. I can’t even begin to describe how moist and delicious it is and besides, there’s no time. I saw Melancholia, I know how the shit ends, can we all just start strapping on our aprons, please. Mom’s always been a bit hush-hush about the recipe, but I’m sure even she would agree these are desperate times and if you have a secret family recipe just put it out there now and everyone can eat really well in our bunkers when drunk uncle starts angry-tweeting about North Korea instead of Alec Baldwin and we all have to go into hiding.

Was I ever pleased with myself when this came out of my notoriously too-hot-for-baking oven perfectly done. I couldn’t wait for it to cool and for the icing to set to get it all dressed up in its winter clothes and set it under its new glass dome-home. I couldn’t keep Nanny that long, bless her heart, so she got sent home with a promise of cake delivery and a visit from Squirtface and his dad on Saturday morning. That’s the day I get to sleep till noon and drink coffee in front of the television, pretending my chronic sleep deprivation is a hangover from a glamorous night out. I even go to bed on Friday night with a full face of makeup to fool myself into believing it on Saturday morning. I’m kidding. I had to throw out all my makeup because it expired. Anyway. Cake.


Supper was in the oven and Squirt was in bed when I finally got to finish my End of the World Chocolate Cake. I’m no cake decorator, but I slathered on the icing and swirled it around to make it look like a rustic-type creation that I wouldn’t be completely ashamed to put in front of a Martha Stewart-Nigella Lawson type pal who popped in for tea. And you know what? It was gorgeous! Like a marshmallowy, snowy, creamy thing that with the right kind of lighting and set decorating, could maybe grace the cover of a (low-end) food magazine. I was feeling like a Democrat before the polls closed, all ready to pop a bottle of champagne as soon as they called Florida.



But hang on a second, what’s this? I can’t seem to…the dome won’t…I put the cake on a plate to ice it and now it…


Son of a bitch.


The glass dome wouldn’t fit over the plate. No one told me I had to put the cake directly on the stand in order for the dome to fit over it. Florida wasn’t a sure thing, how could I have thought my glass cake stand would be too? It was time to concede my victory and get the goddamn toothpicks and cling wrap.


Just remember, they can take away our cake stands, but they can’t take away our cake. Or something like that. And count your toothpicks. I panicked when I counted seven after the delivery to my in-laws, knowing without a doubt I had put eight in, but Justin reassured me that was because he’d almost eaten one earlier that afternoon, so we were good.




Anyways, onwards and upwards. Or sideways. Or ass backwards. Whatever gets you through the next four years. Like a lot of canned goods and batteries in your basement. Until next time!



Top Ten of 2015


Oh look, another top ten list. Which should have come a few days before the end of the old year and not three days into the new, so now it’s not terribly relevant (I’m well aware that my other posts don’t necessarily scream relevance, thank you very much). But you know you can’t look away, you know you’re looking for a good excuse to put off going back to real life tomorrow and the most awful day of the year: FIRST MONDAY AFTER HOLIDAYS. Unless you get real excited about Old Christmas Day, everything is done and put away and you’ve already dumped your Christmas tree at Quidi Vidi Lake. Part of me admires people who have their shit together enough to strip and dump the tree on January 1st, and the other part of me is thinking jeeeez, lighten up. Ours stays up till mid-January. Mostly because we’re lazy, but in part because January is generally terrible and the sparkly lights make me happy. So I say, embrace denial! Put on the kettle, put on your softpants and tuck into the leftover Christmas cheese. Poke around on Facebook and laugh at all the New Year’s resolutions your friends won’t keep. It’ll make you feel better about pounding the face of the rest of that wheel of Brie.

Besides the meals I ate at nice restaurants (all my favs came from Chinched Bistro this year because we eat there a lot and it’s the best), this year’s list wasn’t terribly exotic. When I finished compiling, I noticed four chicken recipes. But what the hell, who’s never looking for another quick and easy chicken recipe? No one, that’s who. There was pork, moose, beef, and tons of seafood this year, but to be honest a lot of it came down to what I casually took pictures of, and what struck me as easy and comfort food-ish. All the recipes are real simple, and good ideas to get you through a NL winter. Or they’ll inspire you to actually put on a pair of pants and leave the house and let someone else do the cooking.

1. Beer Can Chicken


No chicken likes to think it will end up this way, but unfortunately for them and happily for us, beer can chicken (or beer butt chicken, but I just can’t because oh, the poor little things) is one of the quickest and tastiest ways to liven up a barbecue, or even a Sunday roast. Try this rub adapted from Jamie Oliver’s beer can chicken recipe in Jamie’s America: 1 tsp ground fennel seeds, 1 tsp ground cumin seeds, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp chill powder, 1 tsp salt, and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Mix with 4 tbsp of olive oil and rub mixture all over chicken and inside the cavity. Pour half a can of beer in a roasting pan with a few peeled cloves of garlic and a roughly chopped onion. Carefully place chicken over the half-full beer can and place standing up in the pan. Pour in a glass or two of water, tent the whole thing in foil and roast in a 375° oven (you might need to remove one of the racks for the thing to fit) for about an hour. Take out of oven, remove foil, and roast again for 15-30 minutes more or until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is nice and crispy. Using tongs, put the chicken on its side and remove the beer can. Let the chicken rest on a plate and strain the pan drippings into a saucepan. Thicken with a bit of cornstarch and water if you like, to make a nice gravy. Straining’s not necessary, you can use the drippings straight from the pan, but use it somehow because it’s delicious. I like my beer can chicken with a side of homemade oven fries baked with lemon zest and juice, then sprinkled in chopped parsley or cilantro when they’re out of the oven. The leftovers make the best hot chicken sandwich you will ever eat.



2. Moroccan Roast Chicken

This is the best roast chicken recipe I’ve ever made. It’s so good it even knocked beer can chicken out of the coveted top spot. I made three of these in November for a bunch of my sister’s friends and their toddlers, and it was a huge hit. Even the toddlers liked it. Easy to cook for a crowd, and babies will eat it. You guys, this one is clearly a no-brainer. The wine cooks off so it’s fine for kids. And pregnant women. Unless you ask some of the crazier pregnancy online forum people who go so far as to suggest not using mouthwash with alcohol in it. It’s like the Virgin Mary is writing all the pregnancy advice or something.


3. Chinched Pork Belly

“Pork belly with squid and sour cherries on a herbed quinoa, anyone?”

“That’ll never work.”



4. Chinched Seal Loin! (Yeah, you heard me) 

Seal has a bit of a controversial reputation, to say the least. This is mostly thanks to celebrities who couldn’t point out Newfoundland and Labrador on a map if their Louis Vuitton bags depended on it. We won’t get into that argument here, but it’s safe to say that most NL’ers defend the hunt fiercely even if they’ve never tasted the stuff, just to spite the likes of Pamela Anderson and Paul McCartney. I counted myself in that group until last April when I tasted seal for (shamefully) the very first time at Chinched. It was the loin, braised loin I think, on a bed of vanilla parsnip puree. Jeeeeeeesus in the garden was it ever spectacular. Our server Tim came back to check in, took one look at our faces and said, “I know, right? It’s not your nan’s flipper pie!” Honestly, just one of the most beautiful, tender, flavourful pieces of meat I’ve ever tasted. Cooked with love in the kitchen by a group of chefs who get it. Thankfully, most of the standout chefs in this city are bold and ballsy enough to educate the rest of the world about how great (and sustainable, humanely-hunted, etc, etc, etc) this meat really is.


5. Partridgeberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

How can a muffin make someone’s top ten list, you may ask? Because I don’t write for The New York Times and I can do what I want. These are super moist and freeze really well and are sort of kind of healthy-ish. Not really, but anything with oatmeal makes me feel like I’m at least putting in a mild effort, and I threw in partridgeberries to uh, get my daily dose of antioxidants. Make a pile of these for the freezer and defrost them low and slow in a 300º oven for ten minutes or so and it’s like they’re freshly baked.


6. Five-Spice Barbecue Chicken

Again, with the chicken, but this time on the barbecue. I remember this day so fondly because it was the one nice day we ate outside in July after a perfect day of hiking before summer went screwy and turned into November. If you’re using boneless chicken thighs, they will cook in no time on the barbecue. Do flatbreads on the grill too, and serve with Sriracha sour cream and cilantro. The best meal I ate outside all summer. The only meal I ate outside in July.



7. A Ham Sandwich


What? You think Michelin-starred chefs go home after service and whip up seared scallops and parsnip purees? No! They make sandwiches. Don’t knock it because there is nothing better than a good ham sandwich. Not the ones you ate when you were a kid, with Miracle Whip and white bread, squashed together in cling wrap. But a really good sandwich on good bread with good ham and toppings and condiments, like how Subway would be if the French had invented it. My doctor’s pretty cool and not prone to North American pregnancy food paranoia, but she did tell me to try and avoid deli meats. So I’ve been good in that department, while not so good in others (cookie dough). Naturally, my biggest pregnancy craving was a deli sandwich, so my mother-in-law baked me a whole ham that I could slice up and stash in the freezer for whenever the craving hit. That night, the long-awaited sandwich happened, in front of the television and a movie, and it was glorious. The sandwich happened again on Boxing Day, with the noted difference that now I have to eat my TV suppers on a bench on the coffee table because I’m too fat to bend over and I’m afraid I’m going to squash the baby while watching episodes of Masterchef Australia.


8. Chocolate-Studded Dumplings


Come on, any recipe with the word stud in the title. A really simple dessert from one of those mini Company’s Coming cookbooks my brother-in-law picked up on a whim on a trip to the grocery store when I was visiting Halifax. And don’t even dare roll your eyes and be all food snobbish about this one. Like you wouldn’t die to go to supper at Jean Paré’s house. When you’re in serious need of a baked dessert but too lazy to commit to anything more than ten minutes of prep, ARE THESE EVER THE DUMPLINGS FOR YOU. Best with vanilla ice cream. If you’re pregnant this will make your baby go full-ninja, so mind your lower ribcage.

Chocolate-Studded Dumplings

Cocoa Sauce:

1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp cooking oil (I used canola)

For the sauce, combine all 8 ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat and stir on medium until boiling. Pour into ungreased 3-quart (3L) casserole dish. For the dumplings, combine first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Add milk and cooking oil. Stir until soft dough forms. Drop by tablespoonfuls into cocoa sauce. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350° oven for about 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centre of dumpling comes out clean. Serve warm (with ice cream!)

Reheats nicely in oven the next day, if you manage to save leftovers…


9. Chicken Marbella

Don’t let the idea of prunes and chicken throw you, because this recipe is dead easy and PERFECT. Chop them finely enough and no one will know anyways. Like I did, and then after supper I yelled at Justin, “Ahahaha you just ate pruuuuuuuuunes!!!” As this is a food blog and not a pregnancy blog, we do not need to discuss why I had prunes in the house.


10. Olive Oil and Red Grape Cake

This sounds weird, and it is, but in a lovely sort of way. I made this for our 5th Annual Lamb’s Eve on December 30th. This year’s theme was French, and my friend Celine is from France and came for supper and she approved, so, let’s be real here, I didn’t really care what anyone else thought. Like a pound cake, but lighter, and the olive oil didn’t make it savoury so much as earthy or something? Serve with this recipe for vanilla bean ice cream, or splash out on a nice store-bought one.



(I’m cheating a little here, but I don’t have a picture so I think I can get away with it. Here’s a little shout-out to the very last thing I ate in 2015, and I’m not talking about the three Tums I had before bedtime. We did the tasting menu at Chinched on New Year’s Eve and every course was amazing, but the last one was hands down the best thing I ate all year, and one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Warm chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and a salted coconut macaroon. Sweet Mother. I took one bite and it was so good it made me sad, if that makes sense. Sad that every bite was closer to the last one. My one wish for the new year, after world peace and Donald Trump not becoming president, is that they put this on their regular menu for all of eternity.)

So chickens, here’s to good times in 2016. Wishing you full and happy bellies for the new year! But not full enough that you need a feeding bench like me.    xo



That Jerk Can Stuff It. And So Can November.

Or as I like to call it, The Shoulder Season Black Hole of Despair. November is awful. Unless it’s the month you move to your beach house in Costa Rica for seven months (in which case, do you need a personal chef and also I do windows), it’s generally like some terrible punishment from the gods for too many summer cocktails or frolicking in too many piles of golden leaves in October. Frolicking is hard in November. Or I should say outdoor frolicking is hard. November has always been my month for indoor frolicking. Last year, I unapologetically hibernated the entire month and it was glorious. See, you can do that when you’re an actor who’s between contracts (that’s code for “unemployed sixty-five percent of the year”). At one point I didn’t leave the house for five days, and when I did it was to walk down the hill to meet some friends for lunch. An hour and a half later I was back home and back in my softpants, licking Nutella lollipops from tablespoons. It was the best week of my life.


Anyways, hi there, I wrote a blog after seven months. And so far this November is turning out a little differently. I’m totally knocked up and word on the street is you’re supposed to get out and exercise and not stay in the house drinking wine and eating steak tartare all day. So there’s my usual fall routine out the goddamn window. I kid, I kid, I’m happy to do all of the above (uh, not do, I mean) as long as the baby grows into a dentist who will look after me in my pensionless old age (oh god what have I done). So this fall is all about not drinking, but it is about eating and enjoying the food I’m actually “allowed” to have. That means braising and cooking the shit out of everything, which kinda comes with fall anyway. I admit to questioning the wisdom of not eating raw cookie dough (I also freely admit to breaking that pregnancy rule numerous times), but let me tell you something, maternity pants ARE FUCKING AMAZING.


Jerk chicken! I love it, I make a lot of it. I’m pretty sure my recipe would be considered mediocre in any part of the Caribbean, but it got me through the coldest July on record in St. John’s. Even on those days it was almost too cold to barbecue. It’s so weird even to write that…a day too cold to barbecue in July. On my birthday this year I had to wear slippers and turn the space heater on in the kitchen while I was baking my birthday cake (What? Like I would trust anyone else to do it). This was after my morning run, when I passed kids in the Bannerman Park outdoor pool, swimming in six degree weather while the poor lifeguard was on deck wrapped up in a blanket and wearing a toque. Why do we live here.


This recipe for jerk chicken stuffed flatbread is a mishmash of a bunch of my favourites. It’s inspired by a Jamie Oliver stuffed Egyptian flatbread using leftover chicken or lamb with spices like za’atar, sumac, cumin and paprika. I’ve been making it obsessively since I discovered it in my copy of Jamie’s America, using homemade flatbread instead of the authentic Egyptian store-bought stuff (not to be found here as far as I know). No rules with this one, really. I usually have a stash of flatbread dough in the freezer that comes in handy when there’s meat in the fridge that needs to be used. On this particular five-degree summer day there was leftover jerk chicken, so things got a little bit Caribbean-Middle Eastern-fusiony. With a glass of French rosé to drink on the side to completely mess with my head. I was cold and slippered in my kitchen, space heaters on bust, obviously thinking of warm sandy places and picnics in parks, blissfully unaware that soon I wouldn’t even be able to drink to keep warm.


If you have enough leftover jerk chicken to fill a cereal bowl, you’ll have enough to make one giant flatbread. Shred the chicken, add one egg, and some extra fresh thyme and chillies if you like. Season with salt and pepper (because the edge will be taken off the already-seasoned meat when you add the egg) and combine. If you’re using this flatbread recipe (always my go-to, dead easy), break the dough into four portions and set aside two, putting the other two dough balls in the fridge or freezer for later. Flour and roll the two pieces out into a circle that’s not quite as big around as the frying pan you’ll be using to cook them. Place the filling on one, carefully spreading it out with an inch or more to spare. Don’t overstuff, or bring filling too close to the edge or your flatbreads will leak when you roll them together, or come apart when you flip them in the pan.



Place the other rolled-out flatbread on top and seal around the edges. Gently, very gently, roll the two together. Your goal isn’t to flatten everything, just to get it all to stick together a little for easier flippage. Heat some butter in a frying pan and cook the flatbread slowly over a medium heat until golden brown on each side and when you’re pretty sure the egg mixture in the middle is cooked through.





These are good on their own, with a salad, with rice, and whatever dipping sauce turns your crank. I’m a big fan of a green harissa on the side, or just plain yogurt will do. Yogurt is good mixed with harissa as a dip, the homemade or the store-bought stuff. Try the flatbread on the barbecue sometime too, just make sure you brush both sides well with olive oil so it doesn’t stick to the grill. We had leftover leg of lamb in the fridge one random week in June, which will tell you the state of affairs in town this past summer. It was so cold I braised a goddamn leg of lamb in the oven for four hours and still had to turn the heat on in the kitchen.


I mixed the stuffing with an egg and the Jamie Oliver za’atar-sumac-cumin-paprika mix. One teaspoon of each or so, with some salt and pepper (mind your salt of you’re using store-bought za’atar, sometimes it’s already seasoned). It all depends on how much meat you have, and play around with any spice mix you like. Middle Eastern, Jamaican, Mexican, whatever mood you’re in. Unless you’re feeding vegetarians or gluten-frees, you can’t go wrong with spicy meat stuffed in dough and cooked in butter or on the barbecue. You definitely won’t go wrong on a cold day in November, or if you’re feeding a pregnant lady.

Unless you only make one, that is.





Gluten-Free Nutella-Berry Pancake Stack

This is almost good for you! Well not really, but sort of? Blaaah who cares. Not that I think eating gluten-free is an automatic ticket to good health like we’ve been led to believe by people wearing hot pants and living in California. But you know, it’s nice to shake things up a little bit without flour. I kind of look at gluten-free eating like I look at tofu. Here it’s “oh my god tofu I love it and I have to eat it because I’m a vegetarian.” In Korea, everyone eats it because…it’s tofu and it’s part of a regular diet, whether you eat meat or not. I think eating gluten-free can be a part of everyone’s food routine and we don’t need to make a big deal about it. Unless of course you’re celiac in which case you do need to make a big deal about it no matter how many naysayers roll their eyes at you. We’re all so food-judgey. Don’t even pretend you haven’t rolled your eyes at a vegan who won’t eat honey because the bees make it. I certainly did, until I asked a vegan, “So like, what the hell is up with that.” And they told me bees regurgitate it (eeewww). I said, “holy shit, really?” and decided at that moment to respect vegan eating habits while continuing to eat bee spit on my toast in the morning.

Yes, these two-ingredient pancakes are gluten-free but let’s just calm down and call them pancakes, shall we? These have been all over the internet for ages, and here I am putting my two cents’ worth in and some Nutella and raspberries on top of that. Raspberries are heaven and the perfect berry to go with chocolate, sorry strawberries. As for Nutella….well, me and Nutella go way back. Though not as early as you’d expect. Weirdly, you could get it where I grew up in Labrador, but here’s the thing: my sisters and I had no idea it even existed. Robin came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house one morning, and in ten-year-old speak said the equivalent of “Holy fuck I just ate spreadable chocolate on bread at Sarah’s house FOR BREAKFAST. It’s called Nutella.” I remember my eyes growing wide and “Oh god Mom can we get some,” coming out in a strangled whisper. Mom said no because she’s a genius and knew that if her kids started eating chocolate for breakfast (especially this one) it would be game over. I would never have been that European poster child for Nutella. I would never have had a thin layer of it on a piece of artisan sourdough, kissed my Maman on the cheek and grabbed my soccer ball to go frolic in flowery meadows. I would have stayed inside and eaten Nutella lollipops by the tablespoon in front of the television until I developed juvenile diabetes. As an adult I try to subscribe to the “everything in moderation” diet. While it’s true I’ve eaten hashbrown casserole more times in my life than Swiss chard (and that would be zero times I’ve tried Swiss chard) I’m trying to get better with the moderation thing as my body hurls itself toward middle age. Which I hear is like, 67 now right? Thankfully, almost thirty more years before I have to get super serious. Onwards! To the pancakes!

You need two eggs and one banana. That’s it. The trick is to put everything in a blender and whiz it together until smooth. The blender is kind of key here because once everything is whizzed up and full of air it will give the illusion of real live pancake batter. You can mash if you like, but your pancakes won’t really be pancakes so much as scrambled eggs with mushy banana. The two-ingredient rule stops here if you like. I like to add cinnamon, and you can toss in a teaspoon of sugar if you’re going to eat the pancakes plain. If you’re going the Nutella-raspberry route, or smothering everything in maple syrup, it’s not (entirely) necessary.

Heat a bit of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Not extra virgin olive oil – that’s too heavy and will make your pancakes taste like salad. The oil needs to be light. Coconut is fun, and it’ll make everything a bit more tropical-tasting. Never a bad thing, especially around these parts. When the oil is hot (not smoking), ladle a small amount of the batter into the pan, or pour it directly from the blender. Don’t make them big like crepes, because the batter is a little delicate and they can be hard to flip. Be gentle, be patient, and when they’re dark golden brown, turn them over. Preferably with a cookie spatula if you have one. They’re small and easy to manoeuvre and will make getting under the half-cooked pancake much easier.

Two eggs and a banana make a surprising number of pancakes, so it’s probably best to make them all in the one go and keep them warm in a low oven until you’re ready to assemble. From here it’s all freestyle pancake stacking. Piled as high as you like, with as many berries and Nutella as the stack can handle. I used frozen raspberries that I’d thawed beforehand, so don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on the fresh ones. Buying frozen when berries are out of season is always your best bet anyways. Melting the Nutella a little bit first in the microwave will help with drizzling.

A yummy breakfast stack of gluten-free goodness. Or just plain goodness. Also delicious drizzled in bee spit, if you’re not in a chocolate sort of mood. Happy Spring!!

The First of the Spring Chickens

I can’t believe I’m about to write this…but…winter hasn’t been that bad?? “EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!” scream all the Haligonians and our pals on the west coast of the island who got pummelled Day After Tomorrow style. To that I will say, our hearts are with you! And goddamn, we’ve been there so I’m relishing the well-deserved break. It’s amazing how cheerful it is to walk around in sub-zero temps when you can do it on a sidewalk and not in the middle of the road. A BIG thank you to St. John’s city council for getting some of your collective shit together! And now for the love and honour can we please talk about your demolition policy? I won’t be bringing you a plate of cookies for that stunt. Anyway, I also finally broke down and bought a winter jacket that covers my bum. Between that and a Christmas vacation spent in softpants while inventing martinis, I have solved winter.

So, with high hopes and crossed fingers, I’m going to come out and say it. We’ve seen the worst of it. In the likely event of a savage storm in April, spring is still in the air and not even Sheila’s Brush can stop it. A storm in April is laced with a bit more hope than a storm in December, am I right? (I could be wrong. St. John’s could be a mess right now, I’m not even there. I’m on tour and writing this from a hotel room in Marystown, pantlessly drinking pinot grigio and watching a marathon of 19 Kids and Counting. Before you judge me, let me explain that there’s a dart tournament happening at the hotel so I’m not responsible for my actions. It’s either put on cheap aftershave and drink Coors Light in the hallway, or barricade myself in my room. And come ON, Jessa’s getting married and she’s NEVER EVEN BEEN KISSED so this is kind of a big deal. As a side-side note, if the Duggars watched We Need to Talk About Kevin like I just did on Netflix, I’m pretty sure their show would have been called One Kid and We Are Fucking DONE.)

However, comfort food season? Nowhere near over! It’s no secret to anyone that I love a roast chicken. A roast chicken dinner on a Sunday is the number one reason I could never be a vegetarian. Word on the street is that a whole roast cauliflower is now a thing for a veggie Sunday roast. Which is excellent! And a great idea for a meat-eater on a weekday! But, with nothing but the utmost respect for my vegetarian and vegan pals, I would probably have Ted Cruz and his dad over for tea and cakes before I’d bake a cauliflower for my Sunday Roast.

(Ok, ok, all jokes aside, this looks kinda good.)

This recipe is my offering for St. John’s Winter-Spring. Depending on the mood of the weather gods, this shoulder season can last anywhere from March to June. If we’re lucky, winter-spring will be over by April, just in time to start cooking chickens on the barbecue while drinking beers on the back deck. In the meantime, this recipe still falls in the category of comfort food, but will seriously make your house smell like a place where no shovelling is required. Winter-spring. Sprinter? Wring? Yeah, the last one seems more fitting.

Moroccan Roast Chicken with Harissa Potatoes

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

Combine the following spices with 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil: 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt. Rub this mixture all over a whole chicken, including the inner cavity. Stuff with a handful of fresh mint leaves and 4 or 5 preserved lemons. Place in a roasting pan with 4 whole peeled cloves of garlic and 1 roughly chopped onion. Fill roasting pan with 1 cup water and half a bottle of white wine, taking care not to pour over the chicken, and just in the side of the pan. Cover and cook chicken for one hour. Remove from oven, baste, and return to oven uncovered for another half hour until chicken is cooked through and skin is crispy, adding more water to the pan for the last half hour if juices are evaporating too quickly. When chicken is done, move to a plate and let rest. Mash the onions and garlic in the bottom of the roaster with a fork or potato masher and bring to a boil with the drippings over the stove to make a sauce. Strain through a fine mesh sieve if you like, but that’s optional.

For the potatoes: Clean a 2-pound bag of baby red potatoes and cut them in half. Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp harissa, 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 3 tbsp olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven with the chicken for the last half hour. Give them a good toss and return to oven for another 15 minutes while chicken is resting. Sprinkle with more lemon juice to taste before serving.

You’ve probably never put fresh mint in a chicken before, and neither did I until I found a bunch in my fridge that needed to be used and did it on a whim. It works! You’ll only get the slightest hint of it, but it goes beautifully with the salty citrus from the preserved lemons and the Moroccan(ish) spices. I’m not even sure if this recipe qualifies as Moroccan; more than a few would argue that cooking a chicken in wine for an hour before roasting it isn’t right at all (you could just use water if you like, hahaha). But just do it for the sauce. Sweet mother, the sauce.

If you can’t find preserved lemons, don’t sweat it. Regular will do just fine. Here’s a neat Jamie Oliver trick: parboil a large lemon or a couple of smaller ones for five minutes and then prick them a few times with a knife before stuffing them in the cavity. It’s like a hot lemon juice flavour bomb for your chicken. This may be my kitchen safety paranoia soaring to new heights, but be careful when handling the hot lemon. I hold it with a pair of tongs and prick the lemon at a bit of a distance. I can’t think of anything worse than boiling lemon juice in my eye. Well, maybe Stephen Harper winning the next election. I would take hot lemon juice in the cornea before I’d see that happen. I’m looking at you, Alberta. With my one good eye.

Serve up the chicken and potatoes with the sauce and a sprinkling of cilantro if you like. Very easy, very good.

Kind of like the summer we’re all hoping for.

Top Ten of 2014

I’m a sucker for a fresh start. I enjoy a good New Year’s Eve, and like most, I try taking a deep breath and starting again. When I mess up I’ll give it another go at Chinese New Year. Another deep breath on April Fool’s Day to fool myself into starting my resolutions in the spring, then solstice, fall, any given Monday, first day of December to get a jump on things before New Year’s Eve, aaaand here we are, full circle. So chickens, if 2014 didn’t turn out quite as you expected, now’s your chance for a fresh start. In the meantime, to contribute a little something to your procrastination, here’s another annoying top ten list to peruse while you’re poking around online. Instead of starting War and Peace like you said you would on day one of your new life. After all, there’s always Monday.

Tiramisu Ice Cream

I still wonder why I waited so long to get an ice cream maker. I think deep down I knew it would ruin me for life. I think I knew once I took the plunge I would never again feel the same about ice cream that comes from Sobeys. Don’t get me wrong, there have been (and probably will be) plenty of occasions when all I want to do is stay home on a Friday night and pound the face off a tub of heavenly hash. I’m only human, after all. But have you ever really paid attention to what’s in store-bought ice cream? Especially the low-fat stuff? What are modified milk ingredients exactly? Why is it called polysorbate 80? I definitely wouldn’t be able to spell carrageenen if I was competing in a spelling bee, so I probably shouldn’t eat it. Here’s what’s in real homemade ice cream: milk, eggs, sugar, cream, vanilla. With the obvious embellishments for your preferred flavour. If you’re still not convinced full fat homemade ice cream is the way to go, just look at the weird watery puddle that’s left when your store-bought ice cream or frozen yogurt melts against a hot piece of pie. Pie deserves real ice cream and goddammit, so do you.

Check out this recipe for Tiramisu (holy shit, I know!!) ice cream from the gorgeous Playful Cooking. It’s super simple, and when you casually say to your guests. “Whatever, I made homemade tiramisu ice cream for dessert it’s no big deal,” they will lose their minds. I’m sometimes a little fussy about coffee in things that aren’t hot mugs, so when I made this I omitted the coffee and sprinkled some espresso powder and a teaspoon of vanilla-infused rum on top of each individual serving. The second time, I added a tablespoon of the rum and half a teaspoon of espresso powder to the mix before freezing the ice cream. Either which way, it’s a beautiful recipe, and extra special if you make homemade ladyfinger biscuits to go alongside.

Middle Eastern Roast Chicken

The most decadent roast chicken I made all year, and that’s saying something. There are a few different elements but it’s dead easy and so completely worth the effort and please, please try it. I omitted the rosemary and didn’t miss it. And wow, that green harissa is really something. As always, this flatbread recipe. What a deadly way to mess with people’s heads when you invite them over for Sunday Roast.

Hot and Sticky Roast Quail

If I could have lunch with one food personality, it would be Nigel Slater. Preferably sitting at a wrought iron table in an English back garden surrounded by low-hanging trees. With two really nice bottles of very cold white wine. He is just the loveliest. I recently read his book Toast, and fell a little bit more in love with him. If you cook and you don’t have The Kitchen Diaries, you’re missing out on a very tasty time.

Sometimes I’m intimidated by meat that’s not chicken. Hell, sometimes I’m intimidated by chicken. I used Nigel’s recipe the very first time I cooked quail, and it stripped away all intimidation. So don’t be scared, and don’t be precious about it just because quail is something you associate with fancy restaurants. They’re like mini-chickens that don’t take near as much cooking time (and quail is supposed to be a little pink when you cook it, so raw chicken paranoia is significantly reduced). They’re notoriously difficult to debone, so just use your fingers and be careful of the little bones. The Tragically Hip were actually singing about quail, not chicken.

Set aside 4 oven-ready quail. Mix 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons light soya sauce, half a teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons grainy mustard. Toss quail in the mixture, using hands to ensure everything is coated well. Let everything marinate for an hour or so if you have time, but cooking straight away works too. Roast in a 425ºF oven in a pan that’s big enough the quail don’t touch. Cook the quail for twenty to twenty-five minutes.

(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, HarperCollins 2005)

Spiced Lamb Chops

I get a little pang sometimes when I eat lamb but it’s my favourite and I can’t stop so I deal with the guilt. Usually by marinating, roasting, and then eating it. We bought a French rack of lamb for a treat one night and I had no idea what I was doing, but this is what happened. I’m glad I wrote it down because it turned out to be salty, spicy, tangy, tender meat that you could tear off the bone with your fingers and it tasted like street food from somewhere warm.

Marinate in fridge for 4 hours or so – a slightly scored French rack of lamb rubbed with this spice rub/paste:  1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 2 cloves finely minced garlic, juice from half a lime. Let lamb come to room temperature. Sear on all sides in a hot pan and then roast in a 400ºF oven for 12 to 18 minutes. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes, and carefully carve individual chops. Really nice with saffron rice and sprinkled with sumac.

Farmer’s Market Mini-Donuts

There is nothing on earth like an old-fashioned cinnamon sugar donut. For me, they’re right up there with the perfect piece of pie. But you know what? They’re really hard to find. Think about the last time you saw a cinnamon sugar donut. Unless you’re making them yourself, it’s probably been a while. I would even forgive Tim Hortons its shitty coffee if it had a proper donut (no hard feelings Tim, and thank you for helping me stay awake on long road trips). The St. John’s Farmer’s Market is shut down for the season, but when it opens again in the spring we all should go every weekend to support it because it’s one of the best things to do in the city. And there is a stall with a lovely man and woman who make fresh donuts. Fresh as in you can watch the little clouds of batter pop out of a machine and slide into a river of hot oil, bobbing along until they’re gently flipped over to finish frying and then tossed in whatever toppings you like. How could something so beautiful be bad? Sometimes, they put a few extra in the bag for you. Or maybe the woman was alarmed by how my eyes glazed over while I was watching the donut show and wanted me out of there fast. Maybe she’d never had a 38-year-old woman ask to be adopted into their happy little donut family, I dunno.

Portuguese Chicken and Potato Balls

I love Portugal. I can’t say that as someone who’s traveled the country extensively, only as someone who spent three days there one November. Portugal has the bluest sky I have ever seen, the best coffee, food, wine, and people. It’s the kind of place I’d like to plunk myself down, in a little apartment with a patio overlooking a nice street where I would drink wine and cook good food for a month or two. I want to learn more about Portuguese food and eat more of it, because everything I’ve tried makes me feel happy, like I’m already on that patio with a couple of glasses of wine in me. On a quick trip to Toronto last February, Didi and I stayed with two of our favourite friends, Renee and Dana. They live in Little Portugal, and for lunch Renee ran out and grabbed a Portuguese roast chicken with rice and potato balls. I’m the first person to admit that Toronto took a long time to grow on me, but I kind of get it now, and I love that every neighbourhood is its own little town. St. John’s is getting better and better when it comes to food, but I really envy my Toronto pals their ability to run out and grab whatever they feel like eating that day. And why the hell did it take so long for me to find out potato balls existed?

Slow-Roast Persian Lamb

Again, with the lamb. A shoulder this time, braised in some spices and pomegranate molasses. I like how lamb can be a formal affair or one of those things you can pick apart with your fingers and eat between flatbread. I think that’s how most of the world eats it anyway. And if they don’t, they should. This recipe is super easy and the meat comes out tender and tangy, and maybe like something you’ve never tasted. We had it with homemade flatbread, rolled out in the shape of round tortillas so it was almost like eating a lamb taco. Two sauces; a yogurt-cumin-cucumber and that green harissa I’m obsessed with, but I put a bunch of mint in it to go along with the spinach and cilantro. Really, really good. With beer, on a Sunday afternoon in front of the television.

French Macarons

One of the scariest (and most delicious) things in the world, finally scratched off my baking bucket list, mostly thanks to my friend Joanne of Paradise Cakery. Macarons aren’t rocket science, but they are baking science. Don’t make them when it’s raining out, do it with a friend, and be prepared to eat the mistakes that will happen until you finally figure it out. Turns out they’re not so scary after all.

Banh Mi

These are so delicious. And really no big deal to put together unless you want to make your own buns. All the stuffings are fairly simple, so just go buy some baguettes if you want a quick fix. Carby, comforty, and spicy. A good recipe to add to your “How to Make it Through a Winter in Town” collection.

The Clemontini 

(I know, isn’t that a great name? What’s most impressive is it only took two of these to think of it.)

And finally, not counting as food, but counting as something I would like to bathe in, a martini recipe that we may have inadvertently invented. Or inadvertently adapted. Either way those last two sentences would be hard to say after 4 or 5. It’s a martini we made just a few nights ago that’s inspired by a drink I had my first time at Raymonds. What? If you paid $200 bucks to get dehydrated at an Eagles concert, don’t even look at me sideways. Anyway, that whole glorious night is a little fuzzy, but there was one standout drink that was something like fresh lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, apple vodka? Or maybe it was plain vodka, whatever. A few nights ago I wanted a fancy boozy cocktail and the hazy Raymonds memory returned to me. After I wept, I googled around and found lots of recipes for lemon rosemary martinis, but Justin suggested using some of the clementines in the fridge. Or as I like to call them, “the only reason I don’t get scurvy at Christmas time.” I mean, who eats an apple or broccoli between December 25th and January 1st? It’s clementines or booze/chocolate/cheese and if you’re eating kale this time of year, we probably can’t ever be friends. And if you think I’m the only one staving off scurvy with booze, you are very much mistaken.

Put all this in a martini shaker with ice. Enough for two.

1 1/2 oz freshly squeezed clementine juice
1 1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 oz rosemary simple syrup
1 oz vodka
1 oz green apple vodka

(For rosemary simple syrup: over medium-high heat bring to a boil 1 cup water, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 4 springs of fresh rosemary. Simmer for a minute or so until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool and strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding rosemary. Keeps in fridge for a month. Like it’ll last that long. Double the batch if you’re expecting company.)

A little plastic citrus juicer will do wonders, and an electric citrus juicer will make quick work of a pretty tedious job. Not a juicer juicer, more like the one you see above. And hey hey, constant exposure to citrus will burn your hands in the same way lime juice cooks seafood in a ceviche. Gross. So, even a cheap plastic juicer might be a wise investment, especially when you end up loving these things and you want freshly squeezed juice on hand all the time. They’re kind of pretty dressed up with sugared rosemary springs, or a slice of clementine. This is a nice sweet-tart-booze mix, but up the booze by an ounce if you like. If you only have plain vodka, up the simple syrup by a half-ounce. Have some fun experimenting, it’s not like you’ll throw out any failures.

Happy eating in 2015! I’ll see you at Chinese New Year for deep breathing and another fresh start.  xo

This Is Me Trying To Be Excited About Fall.

Remember August? When we were still full of hope for what was left of summer? Remember when I had this grand idea of having barbecues and cocktails and ice cream every day off? Yeah…I remember that too. Well, a little. It’s kinda fuzzy because of all the cocktails I had to drink inside because it was too goddamn cold to barbecue or eat ice cream or do anything besides drink in the kitchen wearing track pants, in front of the window so the rain could disguise my tears.

I laugh now when I think of my misplaced hope, and I’m practically rolling on the floor clutching my guts when I remember thinking, after my shows had opened and my days were finally free, “July was great! August will be great too! We are on SUCH a roll here! Woo-hoooo!” And then I think back to that August night when it was 6 degrees with 70 kilometre winds and we did The Merry Wives of Windsor outside for an audience of eleven. I thanked the gods that evening for my woollen breeches; the same breeches I had loathed a few weeks earlier when I was a walking ad for Sweatin’ to the Oldies. Sadly, that was as far as the gratitude got me that night. I looked out at the audience, wrapped up in their winter hats and blankets and sleeping bags. It looked more like Everest base camp than an outdoor summer theatre crowd. I wanted to scream at them, “WHY ARE YOU HERE??? GO HOME, WEIRDOS!” I even cursed my ancestors. “WHY DID YOU COME HERE? WHY DID YOU TRY AND CARVE OUT AN HONEST LIVING FOR YOUR FAMILY HERE, WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST STEAL A LOAF OF BREAD AND END UP IN AUSTRALIA???”

Granted, I was being a little dramatic at the time. It was the combination of Shakespeare and hypothermia. Couldn’t be helped, really.

So, yeah. Fall, hey? It’s really something else. Especially when it happens in August. Oh, July. You were such a terrible, terrible tease. With your sultry evenings and barbecue smells on warm summer breezes and your radio call-in shows with people complaining about the heat. Happy now, arseholes? Before you know it you’ll be shovelling your car out and falling on icy sidewalks and calling Radio Noon to rant about the snow. Probably after you’ve thrown rocks at passing school children and kicked a bunch of puppies.

This year, I’m refusing to be an arsehole (for the record I have never kicked a puppy or thrown a rock at a child except that one time but it was a snowball and he did it first). I’m going to embrace the fall and coming winter. I will skate, ski, snowshoe and toboggan my way into a winter wonderland of goddamn happiness. After I run out and buy aforementioned skates, skis, etc. Or possibly rent. Borrow. Or stay in with a whisky hot toddy and a giant pile of this chicken.

Sticky Kicking Chicken

(From Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, HarperCollins, 2013)

8 skinless boneless chicken thighs
1 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
Olive oil
2 tbsp sweet red chili sauce
2 tbsp raw sesame seeds

(I was out of sweet chili sauce and used plum sauce. Still very yum.)

On a large sheet of parchment paper, toss the chicken with salt, pepper, and the five-spice powder. Fold over the paper, then bash and flatten the chicken to 3/4-inch thick with a rolling pin. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and cook chicken, turning after 3 or 4 minutes, until nicely charred and cooked through. Do in batches if necessary. Drain away any excess fat from the chicken pan, put back on the heat, drizzle with the sweet chili sauce and toss with the sesame seeds.

This is super fast, easy, and delicious, and the five-spice powder will make your house smell like Christmas. That’s good or bad depending on how you look at it. A bit of both for me; bad because I dread the holidays, good because it reminded me of being a kid and my Nan’s house. Which outweighed the bad. So I guess that makes five-spice powder a good thing. I’m glad I just figured that out and that you were able to come on the journey with me.

My favourite part of making this recipe was (obviously) the beating of the chicken. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a joke on a cooking show about “taking out your aggression” when you’re flattening the shit out of some kind of meat, I’d probably have enough money to buy an actual meat mallet instead of using a rolling pin. There’s a myth out there that women use meat mallets or rolling pins to take out aggression on ex-boyfriends, shitty bosses, stuff like that. I wish nothing but the best for my ex-boyfriends! Honestly! Except that guy who ran off and got married and emailed me on Christmas Eve to tell me about it. He can suck it. Anyway, when I’m flattening meat I do it extra loud to frighten the two Boston Terriers who live next door. Not that they’re not adorable (in that ugly small dog kind of way), but I like to scare them with sudden noises, just like they scare me with their sudden vicious barking when I’m taking my afternoon sofa naps.

Hey, check it, I just googled Boston Terriers for a laugh and according to Wikipedia, “both females and males are generally quiet and bark only when necessary. Their usually sensible attitude towards barking makes them excellent choices for apartment dwellers.” Hahahahahaha! HA! Some Boston Terrier owner was definitely drunk Wiki-editing. Now I have to log on to Wikipedia and create an account or whatever the hell and amend that to “generally bark only when breathing or when neighbours in attached houses are taking afternoon sofa naps. Their attitude towards barking makes them excellent choices for those living near the arctic circle. And polar bears.”

I’m kidding, I love those sweet little bathmats. Hey neighbours!!

So chickens, I begrudgingly wish you a very Happy Fall. Or, as my friend Susan says “I’m calling it autumn from now on. Fall sounds too depressing.” Either way, enjoy it. Embrace the braising, stews, curries, and afternoon sofa naps. Before you know it, summer will be here!

And you’ll still be doing pretty much the same thing because you live in Newfoundland.

August: Barbecue, Booze and Ice Cream

For a lot of people, summer started on June 21st. Even though (if I’m recalling correctly) it was one of those “whatever summer is totally here I don’t care if I have to wear a winter coat with my flip-flops” kind of day. Now that I’m thinking about it, June was pretty goddamn miserable. People had hushed conversations behind closed doors about the infamous Summer of 2011 and June-uary and sweet baby Jesus, would 2014 suffer the same fate? After the worst winter in St. John’s history (that’s not me being historically accurate, but holy shit come on), the city lived in dread of a summer with a similar theme. Me, I kind of roll with the seasonal punches. After spending ten summers in rural Newfoundland, I’ve come to expect the worst and the absolute best. This is my very first summer in the city, and I’m just happy to be here, happy to have sidewalks for a few months, and happy to be living a stone’s throw from Moo Moo’s Ice Cream.

But back to June. June was gross. Not as gross as May, and I still can’t even talk about the apocalyptic April we had, but let’s talk about July. The weather gods came out from behind the bushes, blew their giant weather-trumpets or whatever and yelled, “JOKES YOU GUYS!! July is gonna kick ass.” And it did. It was glorious, hot, sticky, like a little piece of Hanoi plopped right down on top of us for a few weeks. The lines grew longer at Moo Moo’s, tattooed men everywhere took off their shirts, and outdoor cats were all shag this please let me back in the house to seek shade under the coffee table. And my personal fav: Radio Noon was swamped with callers phoning in to complain about the humidity, which is like, so hard because you have to shovel it. Oh wait. You don’t. So go join the line at Moo Moo’s and then run through a sprinkler or something crooked arses.

The best weather the island has ever seen started just about the time I headed into full-time rehearsal. The first day the humidex hit thirty was the first day I had to spend eight hours in a rehearsal hall trying to bash Shakespeare into my brain. Normally, being inside on beautiful days makes me insane, but I was enjoying the work and never once wanted to run away and go swimming. The second part’s a lie of course – the best place to be when it’s thirty degrees is in a lake and not in a dress rehearsal wearing wool breeches and knee socks. But I never complained once (out loud) and enjoyed evenings on my back step eating barbecued hot dogs and drinking beer. We finally opened at the end of July and I made a conscious decision to start my honest-to-goodness summer in August. The month when everyone suffers from Summer Panic Disorder. You know, when you try to squeeze in everything you wanted to but never had time for in June and July. This month I’m trying to soothe my SPD with lots of barbecues, booze, and ice cream. There’s a loose plan in place to attempt a new recipe from each of the above categories and write about it every week, but I guess that will depend on how many mojitos I get in me before passing out in front of the computer.

(And hey if you’re out around Cupids this month and want to see me get disembowelled by King Henry and subsequently make out with him fifteen minutes later, check out Perchance Theatre’s schedule here.)

Week 1: Jerk Chicken with Coconut Rice and Green Harissa
               Mango Sorbet
               Cilantro Negroni


Jerk Chicken  (adapted from simplyrecipes.com)

1/2 cup malt vinegar
2 tsp molasses
2 tbsp dark rum
The juice from one large lime
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 fresno chillies, with seeds, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped (or a handful of chives)
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp ground allspice
4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pack of 8 or 9 chicken thighs

(Bone-in thighs with skin is fine. Jerk is always better on the bone, but I took the skin off. Keep it on if you have a great barbecue and are confident in getting the chicken skin nice and crispy. If not, then eww, skin off please.)

Put everything except chicken thighs in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Place chicken thighs in a large bowl and pierce several times with a fork. Mix in jerk marinade and leave to marinate in fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight of you can swing it. Grill on your barbecue, low and slow, until chicken is slightly charred and completely cooked through. Save the leftover marinade, boil for a good ten minutes (it had raw chicken in it, remember?) and use as a sauce, or even to baste the chicken while barbecuing. I cooked mine on the stovetop with a cup of homemade chicken stock and it was great – really intense – but great.

God, I love this chicken. The perfect recipe to use up all those spices you normally only use at Christmas. Relatively inexpensive if you’re cooking for a crowd, easy to grill on a shitty barbecue like ours, and the leftovers are the best. It’ll make your neighbours jealous because your backyard will smell like a market stall somewhere in the Caribbean. A quick note about the chillies: I went with fresno peppers, which are pretty mild on the hotness scale, but I wouldn’t be opposed to jalapenos next time if I was feeling brave. Jerk chicken is normally made with Scotch bonnets which terrify me. I love spicy food, but I’m no hero. Go nuts on the bonnets if you like, and then report back to me about how work was the next day, or how your corneas were after you accidentally touched your eye.

Jesus, the dictionary says there are four different ways to spell chillies can we get our collective shit together please.

Coconut Rice  (from the side of the box of Mr. Goudas Coconut Milk Powder)

4 cups water
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup coconut milk powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp of you favourite Caribbean hot sauce

Heat up water in a medium sized pot. Add coconut powder, stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil. Add rice, stir to blend in and reduce heat to medium low. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper. Gently stir with a fork to blend in all the flavours. Cover the pot and allow to cook for 16 to 20 minutes, or until rice is tender to your taste.

Yum. And not too spicy, even though I used this lethal hot sauce that we bought in St. Lucia last year. But with only half a teaspoon for the whole pot, it was pretty smooth sailing. Slightly creamy from the coconut milk powder, but in a good way, and not a bad rice pudding kind of way.

Green Harissa  (adapted from Rachael Ray, foodnetwork.com)

1/2 of a large bunch of fresh cilantro (stems too!)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 fresno chilli, seeds in, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 large handfuls of baby spinach
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste.

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste and season as necessary.

There are so many great things about this recipe I can barely contain myself. It can be used as a salad dressing (thinned with a little more olive oil), an accompaniment to any Middle Eastern dish (uh, works with Caribbean too), as a healthy dip for veggies, flatbread, grilling chicken or fish, or even spreading on sandwiches. I made this a few weeks ago and I’m obsessed with it. You know when you buy a big container of baby spinach at the beginning of the week with the intention of eating a salad every day? And then you get to the end of the week and you realize all the McCain Superfries in your freezer are gone but the spinach has started to wilt? This recipe is for you. Same goes for the big bunch of cilantro you bought and then forgot about in the produce drawer. Everything pulses into one little compact bowl of excellent.

All the above served with Anna Olson’s flatbread recipe. Takes no time to make and almost tastes like naan from you favourite Indian restaurant. Make a huge batch and freeze, or freeze the dough in individual portions, ready to thaw and roll at a moment’s notice. Great with or without the coriander seeds.

Mango Sorbet  (I totally made this up and it’s pretty deadly)

1 600g bag of frozen mango
Juice from half a lime
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp vanilla-infused rum

Thaw frozen mango on a cookie sheet, then puree in a blender. Mix sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer until sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool. Combine mango puree, sugar syrup, lime juice and rum, and let mixture cool in fridge for two hours or overnight. Freeze in ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

This is the BEST. And not bad for you because you don’t need a whole lot of sugar to sweeten the mango. You could probably get away with 1/4 cup sugar if you like. Rum is optional, but it keeps the sorbet from getting too hard and adds a lovely flavour that isn’t boozy or overpowering. Not that I don’t enjoy overpowering booze, but best to leave out if kids will be tasting, or pals who aren’t too fussy about alcohol (???). Lots of vanilla rums out there, but I make mine by saving scraped out vanilla pods and putting a few of them in random bottles of liquor. Rum, vodka, haven’t tried whisky yet, but you get the idea. Best to tell guests about that trick if your liquor is out in the open, because vanilla pods sometimes resemble stick insects, or preying mantises.

My friend Susan gave me the sweetest little case of dessert salts for Christmas, and because I was a few Negronis in and feeling adventurous, I thought one might be nice for the sorbet. Decided on the vanilla-cardamom, even though it strayed more into a spicy Indian flavour instead of spicy Caribbean. But hey, we were already all over the map with North African harissa and Italian Negronis so woo-hooooo summer. Himself wasn’t too fussy over the salt on the mango sorbet but I looooved it. That’s how I said it after my fourth Negroni. Hi Mom.

Feel free to take a chance on the red mangoes at Sobeys, but I’ve never had any luck with them. No matter how perfect they look or smell, I always end up with a soft and stringy mess. Chunks of frozen mangoes are fresher and more reliable in the mango off season (obviously all year round in Newfoundland). Different story if you can get your hands on the little yellow ataulfos; they’re usually available here in the spring, sometimes into summer, and they are insanely good and perfect for sorbets, salads, curries, and eating over the sink with your hands like a monkey.

Cilantro Negroni (from a random Martha Stewart magazine Didi gave me)

Muddle 3 cilantro sprigs with 1/2 tsp of superfine sugar and 1 orange wedge in a glass. Add 2 oz Campari and ice. Add 4 oz club soda (or sparkling water, something fizzy). Stir. Makes one.

Almost as fast as cracking a beer. Bitter, but nice. If it’s too bitter for you, add a bit more sugar and one more wedge of orange. But jeez calm down it’s Campari it’s supposed to be bitter. A lime wedge thrown in is nice too. Best with a floppy hat and oversized sunglasses.

If you’ve managed to make it through this post, you deserve a good stiff drink and an ice creamy treat. Put on your floppy hat and sunglasses and go barbecue some meat before the sidewalks disappear. Me? I’m off to get disembowelled in my woolen breeches.

Happy Summer!!