Blackstrap molasses

I can’t remember buying molasses. We used to have it when I was growing up — it’s integral to Boston baked beans! Every once in a while, I used to spread some on toast in the morning — I think Mom told me about it, that a Newfoundlander she knew used to do that for breakfast, so I tried it one day. I liked it. But I forgot about it for a long time… and it’s just sugar, right?

Umm, no, it’s not.

I bought some (unsulfured) blackstrap molasses on the weekend at the Bulk barn to use as an ingredient in mahogany lacquered squab, which I made myself for Thanksgiving dinner. Here’s a shot:

Thanksgiving Dinner

The glaze is equal parts molasses and balsamic vinegar (don’t use the expensive stuff, just the moderately priced — you want some of the acid). Plus spices. I applied it before putting the squab in the oven, and brushed it with what collected in the pan twice while it was roasting.

I tasted the dribbles of molasses, and really enjoyed the flavour. Almost smoky. A tinge of bitterness. Rich.

I’ve been thinking of other things to do with it (plus have done a couple). A cracker with peanut butter and a little drizzle of molasses: that’s a good thing.

Cocktail? Hmm, maybe. Especially after reading this article about the nutrients (mostly minerals) that molasses provides. Although it might just taste like dark rum.

How about burnishing roasting vegetables, like onions and squash?

One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses is about 42 calories. One tablespoon of standard table sugar is 45, so they’re close to the same calorically, but molasses doesn’t taste as sweet.

Definitely an ingredient to investigate. Molasses: it’s not just for beans!

Hosted #PatioClub!

Here in Leslieville, some of us celebrate Saturdays by going over to Stratenger’s at 2pm and having a few drinks. We’re usually done by 4:30, and then go on our way for the rest of the weekend and rest of the week.

Nancy (on twitter: @Nancy178) started off the summer season by hosting Patio Club on her amaaaaazing balcony. I decided to finish off the summer with Patio Club on my back deck on the Labour Day long weekend.

I prepped by sauteeing three types of mushrooms (oyster, beech, and Nebrodinis) and simmering a San Marzano tomato sauce. I pitted a variety of olives. I grated mozzarella. I oven-dried some yellow cherry tomatoes, and preserved them in olive oil.

I bought a bunch of jars of interesting things at Domino’s at the St. Lawrence Market: some black olive paste, some basil pesto, spicy eggplant strips (love them!), artichoke hearts, and upstairs at Scheffler’s, some pearl bocconcini, and a hot and mild sausage.

I also bought some 00 wheat flour from Domino’s, and made pizza dough. Warning: test your yeast first, hmmm? I didn’t, and… it didn’t, either. Flat icky mess.

First thing on Saturday morning I was over at Loblaw’s, buying their frozen pasta dough. Thawing it. Then cutting each ball into 4, and rolling, stretching, pleading with it to stop creeping back into a ball. Resting it, fighting with it some more. Then popping it in the oven long enough to bake.

I discovered with the first two that they blew up just like pita bread (heck what’s the difference?). I needed to be doing something like blind baking. It actually didn’t occur to me to put beans on the rounds (I just thought of that now: that’s something I’ve known for a long time). I did puncture the rest of the rounds with a fork multiple times. They still rose a bit, but not to full ballooned-pita-ness, if you’ve ever seen them in the oven.

Guests arrived,  and we started drinking! We also had some nibblies: I bought some strange things from the snack section at Domino’s: beet chips (they were great) dried/fried peas in pods (meh) and dried/fried okra (hmm. kinda meh). And some Fritos. Oh. And a contribution from @BeeRich33 — some Black Diamond cheddar that he cold smoked in sticks. I cut into cubes, they all disappeared. Everybody loved Rich’s cheese.

Then we made pizzas. Since everything had been precooked, it was really only a matter of choosing which ingredients to put on the ‘za, and put it on the barbecue for long enough to melt the cheese (and, one hopes, not burn the bottom of the pizza bread too badly).

We finished off with some Ontario peaches that @pronosher brought: I cut them in half, brushed olive oil on the cut side, then face down on the grill until they had good grill marks. Turned them flat-side-up, sprinkled a bit of Demarara sugar, broiled a bit longer, then let cool a bit. That was dessert!

All in all, a pretty good Patio Club. The last people left after dark, so I’ll take that as a mark of satisfaction 🙂

Getting recipes from chefs

As posted waaaay back, Sandy won a dinner by Matt Kantor of Little Kitchen and (now) Ghost Chef fame. One of the early dishes was a creamy sunchoke soup, garnished with crispy fried bacon lardons and shiitake mushrooms. I was fortunate to get the recipe after the dinner!

This past winter, I subscribed to KEG’s winter CSA (look back to the winter months to see my pictures). I had more sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes and squash and celeriac than I could comfortably eat in the time frame, so I made a lot of purées and froze them in ziplock bags (sandwich size).

I was having Sandy and Damir and Betty for dinner yesterday, and decided that I’d do a variant on Matt’s soup, so I took some bags of my purées of sunchoke and potato out of the freezer, and came as close to replicating the soup as I could, given I was starting with purées rather than whole raw veggies.

That’s when I started making a few changes.

I put the soup in the fridge, and served it cold.

To garnish the soup, I used a lotus root I had bought on Friday over at T&T Supermarket (the one on Cherry Street).  I used my mandoline to cut uniform slices across the root (and get those gorgeous circles with the tuber holes). Then I dried off (on paper towel) the slices, and deep fried them in some olive oil in my smallest frying pan. You have to watch them: there’s a lot of water in them, so most of the cooking time is used with just getting the water out of them (they shrink a lot). After the water is out of them, the temperature rises, and they start to carmelize and turn crispy. That’s when to pull them out of the frying pan and drain them.

Hey, Matt! Thanks for the recipe: it works well cold with lotus root garnish!

Completed cassoulet

And here it is, fresh from the oven!

Cassoulet out of the oven

I could have/should have taken the lid off the pot after about 45mins of cooking so some of the liquid would evaporate. Oh well.

Here’s an extreme close-up of it on my plate, topped with a piece of crisped-up skin from the goose.

Cassoulet Plated

I like the addition of a tomato and a leeeetle bit of summer sausage: they help to mitigate the richness of the dish and provide some interesting flavours (the first cassoulet I made was oh! so bland).

Cassoulet, my own way.

I’ve tried following recipes, gone by their recommendations, but now it’s time to do it my own way.

This time, I’ve used white kidney beans instead of Navy beans or Great Northerns (a type of navy bean often recommended for this dish). I’m not a big fan of the flavour of navy beans: tastes too much like Boston baked beans to me, even though there’s no molasses or anything else that would make it remind me — it’s just the taste of the beans. White kidney beans are cannellini beans — what you get if you get a white bean dip in Italy.

I like that flavour a lot more.

Making a cassoulet takes time, and there are a couple of shortcuts you can take (like buying canned beans) but I decided to do the whole thing from scratch, and only cheated with the broth.

I soaked the beans. Then I cooked them for an hour and 20 minutes with two chicken bouillon cubes, a couple of bay leaves, some parsley, summer savory, ground pepper, onion, garlic, and celery.

Was too late by the time that was done to make the cassoulet, so I drained the beans, mostly, and put them in the fridge overnight.

Today I assembled the casserole. Here are the ingredients:

Assembling a Cassoulet

The cooked beans, a hunk of oven-roasted smoked bacon from Witteveen’s, a drumstick and two breasts from a goose I roasted last fall (I stripped the skin off the breasts and sliced them). One half-centimeter thick slice of summer sausage, cut into cubes. Great big organic tomato. I was going to add additional garlic, but thought I’d better not, since I’m going to a wine tasting tomorrow night!

I didn’t use all the bacon. I took a 7-cm hunk off the end, and put slices of the bacon along the bottom of the ceramic casserole. Then put in the drumstick.

Chopped the tomato, added it to the beans, as well as the summer sausage. Put a layer of the bean mixture, then slices of goose breast, then the rest of the bean mixture. Poured about 6oz of white wine over the top, put it in the oven at 325 (then reduced to 275), and left it for a couple of hours.

I’m about to go back home and check it. May crisp up some of the goose skin to add to the top, or use some panko crumbs. See what I feel like.


Friday’s fish day!

No, I’m not following Roman Catholic rules for “meatless” Fridays that led countless millions of people to eat fish on Fridays. It’s just convenient to remember to go to Hooked on Friday!

I went today, (as soon as I walked in, the fresh smell made me hungry, even though I’d just eaten lunch) and surveyed their fish board:

Hooked again! Listed.

Then I looked at what the food looked like in the cases.

First up: different types of salmon, sable fish, halibut, and sturgeon. Hmm. Sturgeon. Interesting. I’m going to have to look up info on that one before I buy it: what do I do with it, etc.

Hooked again! Fresh.

Mmmm. Mussels, clams, and oysters. Most memorable clams I’ve had since I was 9 out on the Barachois in Newfoundland were in Rome this past fall. That’s a possibility.

Hooked again! Mussels, clams.

Love the way they showcased a half-dozen oysters.

Hooked again! Oysters.

Lots of goodies here. Some cooked lobster tails and lobsters, crab meat,  more gorgeous trout from the same farm as I got the rainbow trout from last week…

Hooked again! Fresh & smoked, lobster, too.

Mmm. More gorgeous fish. Wild char. Some white fish, pickerel, trout.

Hooked again! Caviar, etc.

I can’t believe it! I didn’t take a picture of the enormous scallops! Oh well.

I finally decided to get a pound of manilla clams, 3 whopping big scallops again, and a cooked-and-ready-to-eat lobster tail, just sitting there, crying to be munched. Haven’t yet decided which to eat tonight!


Went with the clams. In some olive oil and butter, sautéed 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 an onion, 1 stalk celery. When translucent, added about 10oz of Sauvignon Blanc. Bring to a boil, add a good fistful of fresh parsley, chopped. Add the clams. Cover, shake to get as even a level on them as possible. I gave them 4 minutes (I had 1 lb.).

Serve. Take excess sauce and boil it to half the volume, and sop that up with day old baguette. Oh yes.

Manilla Clams

Dinner challenge & recipe test

It’s pretty much a rule that if you’re going to test out a recipe for the first time, you make it at least once before you serve it to guests.

I broke that rule on Sunday.

I had Sandy, Damir, and Betty over for dinner. I was testing recipes for Natalie MacLean’s new book that will be coming out this fall.

Wherever possible, I bought local organic. When local organic wasn’t available, I bought local. When it wasn’t available, I bought organic (this great hierarchy of food choice courtesy of David Suzuki).

We started with martinis and some white kidney bean purée I made by cooking up the beans and using the stick blender on them and a little bit of the water they cooked in, and added a little drizzle of white truffle oil and a pinch of salt, and served it with triangles of whole wheat pita.

I made the martinis a little different by including a wee drip of VSOP brandy that had been drowning green peppercorns since December 9th, and popped a few peppercorns into the bottom of each glass.

From then, it was food & wine.First stop: oyster chowder. This was a really tasty recipe. Served it up with Altana Di Vico pinot grigio 2009.

Oyster Chowder

Next recipe had me out in the kitchen cooking for a while; fortunately, I had prepared the green pea & thyme puree (shelled the peas myself!) and the semolina gnocchi in advance. So I roasted up some young pigeon (squab) breasts and a partridge, too, because Whitehouse meats only had 3 pigeons left! It’s quite expensive there: I’m going to take a look this week when I’m at T&T with Betty to see if they have pigeon, and see where it’s from and what the cost is. It’s a lovely meat: dark, juicy, flavourful, but not strong and gamey or liver-tasting, which had worried some.

We drank Betty’s Peppoli Chianti Classico from 2008 with this dish. I almost forgot to take a picture, which is why there are fork marks in my pea purée!

Squab (young pigeon)

On to the fourth course! Lamb croquettes. Definitely the most labour-intensive dish (had to prepare it over 3 days… I could have done it in one day, but it would have had me worrying about coordination with other dishes).

Awesome. Totally AWESOME. Crunchy on the outside, rich lamb flavour and melt-in-your-mouth inside. Very rich. The recipe suggests serving it with an endive salad, so I made a very simple salad of endive leaves, ruby-red grapefruit slices, some very old balsamic vinegar that almost wouldn’t pour any more because it was so thick, and a little olive oil. Just something simple and a little acidic to balance the richness.

And with that, we had an awesome wine from Sandy and Damir: K1 by Geoff Hardy, a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Adelaide Hills. It was a numbered bottle, #3910 of only 5000. It did a slow, smouldering tango with the lamb: they were a perfect pair.

Lamb Croquette

After that, a little break (we needed a break, really) and then some panna cotta for dessert (blackberries from the St. Lawrence farmers’ market that I bought and froze, raspberry syrup from the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair made by Lennox Farms in Shelburne) with another half-bottle of Betty’s Chianti.

Panna Cotta

All in all, dinner was a success. Definitely didn’t throw any food out: everyone cleaned their plates. Only complaint was that I spent too much time in the kitchen and not enough with my guests!

Next time, they’ll be served a big plate of pasta and a salad, and I’ll spend all my time with them. Or I’ll barbecue something (it had better be warmer out).

This coming Sunday I’m cooking for Steve & Rob & Joanne — more new recipes!

Today’s lunch

Lunch time came around. I opened the fridge (lo and behold! wondrous variety of veggies from KEG). Figured it was time to eat up some things, like about 2oz of bacon that were there.

I have containers of pasta and beans pre-cooked in the fridge: it makes it easier to throw something together for lunch.

Here’s what I pulled out today:

Pasta Lunch Ingredientss

From top left, clockwise around the little bowl with pepper flakes:


  • fusilli pasta (coloured with vegetables),
  • bacon,
  • garlic (it was a huge clove),
  • black kale,
  • leek,
  • 2 chopped anchovy fillets,
  • and pine nuts.

And here’s what it looked like after cooked in the cast iron skillet in a little olive oil.

Pasta Lunch

I like the drama the kale added!


It’s winter, and beans are something I consider a winter food. If you look back through this blog, you’ll see that’s when I make massive pots of pea soup, experiment with cassoulet recipes, and so on.

The one thing I disliked about the cassoulets I made was the use of Great Northern beans. These are the beans that give Boston baked beans its flavour, and it’s a flavour I associate so strongly with that dish that, to me, cassoulet made with them tasted… American, and not French. OK, that’s a little weird, but that’s the way I’m wired.

I’d been trying to find cannellini beans, and hadn’t had any luck finding any dry ones (found canned ones). Then someone on Twitter enlightened me: they’re usually called white kidney beans over here. Ah. Back to the St. Lawrence market for dry white kidney beans. And Romano beans. Just for the heck of it. To compare the flavour of the two. I got the kidney beans at Rube’s and the Romanos at Domino’s. Prices are lower at Domino’s.

Last night I put 8oz (weight) of each on to soak. This morning I drained them and put them in fresh water with a chicken bouillon cube, and boiled until soft. I could have stopped the process earlier than I did if I wanted firm beans; they were starting to split and peel when I drained them.


The shrivelled skins of the kidney beans rehydrated while being boiled, and were very thin, and almost nonexistent. The skins on the romano beans are thicker, but not obnoxiously so. I tried some of them plain. The white beans have a very mild flavour, and I’ll use them in dishes where I want one (or several) of the other ingredients to dominate. The romanos (on the right) have a stronger flavour, slightly meatier tasting. Not as strong a flavour as, say, chickpeas, but a very pleasant taste that I’m immediately imagining with bacon and mushrooms.

Next, I drizzled a little white truffle oil on some of each. I love white truffle oil. It was most apparent in the white beans, although still strongly present in the Romanos.  I think that if I want to recreate the white bean ‘soufflée’ that Sandy and Betty and I had in Anghiari, I’ll use the white kidney beans.

I put the rest of the cooked beans in the fridge in sealed tubs, so I can add a handful to dishes as I cook.

Tonight for dinner I mixed some of the romanos with some frozen rapini, added some chicken stock, and heated it up, then added a boneless skinless chicken thigh on top. It was a good combination.

I suppose Rich set me off this week by asking what sort of slow cooker recipes I’d make with beans. I responded:

You can go the Moroccan route, in terms of spices; use strong cuts of meat, like goat, older lamb, stewing hen (T&T sells those) and treat the slow cooker like a tagine. Appropriate beans: chick peas, fava beans.

Or pea soup — I made a huge batch of that in my slow cooker last week. I used a smoked turkey thigh (the brand is Brandt) — bought it at the cheap food place across Leslie from Loblaw’s — Loblaw’s didn’t have any, got a song-and-dance from them about how they might be stocking them in the future, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s lower fat than smoked ham hocks.

Venison’s really good in the slow cooker with lots of members of the allium family and other root veggies: toss a few juniper berries in the pot along with a splash of red wine, bay leaf, salt & pepper.

 Lentils scream Indian food to me, so I’ve got plans to use them along with tomatoes, curry spices, onion and carrots and chicken thighs.

 I made onion soup a few weeks ago. I didn’t chop the onions, just ran them all through the mandoline, so they were like thin noodles. Made for messy eating. I’ll chop them next time.

Stewed oxtail would be good — it’s usually made with potatoes, but a mild-flavoured bean would be a good substitute, or a whole-grain rice and a handful of red kidney beans. You might want to spice it up like a Jamaican roti.

There’s a few ideas!

I don’t put a lot of greens into my crock pot — I cook them separately so they’re not stewed and drained of color (which happens after a long time).


Wikipedia describes why some types of beans need to be soaked for at least 5 hours and boiled at 100C for 10 minutes before cooking in a slow cooker: they contain a toxic compound, phytohaemagglutinin, that can be leached out. It can also be boiled out, but if you’ve got a slow cooker on a low setting, the temperature might not be high enough to degrade the toxin (and may make it stronger).

Canadian martini

I’ve had many martinis.

Pure ones,


fancy-schmancy ones that had nothing to do, really with the original concept.

Tonight I had one that was based on the original, but with a change. And in my mind, the switch of the third ingredient from olives turns this into a truly Canadian martini.

Here’s the recipe:

  •  whisper of vermouth
  • 1.75 oz of gin — I used Tanqueray, your choice may vary: wouldn’t recommend something like Hendricks, which should be enjoyed solus.
  • 3 spruce buds: mine were from Forbes, who preserves them and sells them in Ontario.