Category Archives: Main Courses

What I did on my summer vacation


British Columbia making a spectacle of itself.

Just back from a week and a half in British Columbia and am still feeling slightly stunned by the sheer histrionics of that landscape.  The cliché is true: this is the most SPECTACULAR of our provinces, dazzling the eyes and stirring the soul, with its snow-capped mountains, deep blue-green inlets and enormous, darkly brooding evergreens.  Moreover, I had a week and a half of brilliant sunshine — no rain at all — which led my BC relatives to murmur anxiety-ridden comments, fearful that Vancouver Island was soon to become an arid desert plain.

Anyway, enough of the weather report.  I determined to do some eating in between checking out the local art galleries, shopping on Vancouver’s fashionable South Granville Street and visiting with a family that I really don’t see often enough, and I can report that the city’s restaurant scene is lively and brimming with ideas.  I suppose that one thinks of seafood most readily in Vancouver and I tried the wild salmon, a beautiful piece of fresh halibut lightly coated with panko crumbs (so delicious), and something called “spot prawns.” (Don’t call them “spotted prawns”, as I did, revealing my southern Ontario gaucherie.)

Now spot prawns taste a lot better than they look in the wild.  They are one of the major commercial bcspotprawnspecies of shrimp found on the west coast of Canada — about 65 percent of the harvest coming from the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  This is their harvest season — it starts in May and lasts from 6 to 8 weeks.  They are carefully and sustainably managed and harvested with baited traps which have minimal impact on ocean habitat.

Over 90 percent of BC’s spot prawns are frozen at sea, packed and exported across the Pacific to be eaten in Japan and Asia.  The other 10 percent are devoured locally and I tried them at a restaurant in Vancouver called West.  The restaurant was serving them in a variety of ways that day; I ate mine in a tempura batter, my sister-in-law had them in a risotto.  And I can confirm that they are of a good size, tender, juicy and as mild and sweet as fresh shellfish ought to be.



The restaurant itself inspires accolades.  I seldom travel anywhere without doing some restaurant research and West was high on my list of “restaurants to try in Vancouver.”  I found it entirely by chance, however, as I was walking down the street chatting to my niece.  A woman, walking past, overheard me mention the name, turned around and said to us, “Oh, you must try West, it’s wonderful, you’ll love it and it’s just down the street.”  (Vancouverites seem to be like that.)  So we followed her advice and enjoyed a cheerful and flawlessly served meal in another “spectacular” setting.

West is devoted to serving contemporary regional cuisine and executive Chef Quang Dang prides himself on sourcing regional producers. The restaurant’s interior is all eye-candy: one entire wall contains beautifully crafted, temperature-controlled wooden cubicles for wine and overlooks a long cherrywood bar; on the ceiling, a silvery Werner Forster installation floats, all light and motion;  the tabletops are etched stone and the leather chairs are Mario Bellini designs from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  The menu, not surprisingly, reflects a very west coast ambience: lots of organic greens, west coast oysters, Haida Gwaii sablefish, wild BC salmon, Cape Scott halibut, rare albacore tuna, prepared in ways that evoke the chef’s Scottish and Vietnamese background.  And that random lady on the street?  She just happened to be the restaurant’s award winning bar manager, Sabrine Dhaliwal, who turned up later to do a photo shoot and to offer us free cocktails!

But the biggest surprise of my visit occurred when we abandoned the urban fleshpots of Vancouver to nnoose15 055stay on Vancouver Island where my in-law’s have retired. Much time was spent lounging on the patio (more sunshine), sipping wine and watching the deer nibble at the cedar hedges. One day, however, we roused ourselves enough to take a tour of the island’s wineries — which was a complete revelation to me.  I had known about the Okanagan wineries but (silly me!) I had no idea that there were vineyards and wineries on Vancouver Island.  I found out that the first commercial vineyards were started in the Cowichan Valley in 1970; the first winery opened in 1992 and today there are more than 80 wineries in the region.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the flower bedecked terrace of the Averill Creek Vineyard.  Averill Creek is known for its pinot noir, but I really loved a fruity, not so sweet gewürtztraminer.

Alright — back in Hamilton and back to reality.  Check out our exciting new Go Cooking summer sessions that will be posted here bright and early on Saturday, June 20th.

Here’s a recipe from a cookbook I bought on Granville Street.

Arctic Char à la Provencal

from Provence restaurant, in Vancouver Cooks 2bcvancouvercooks


4 medium to large tomatoes peeled, seeded, in 1/2 in dice

1 lemon

4 tsp capers

1 heaping tsp chopped garlic

3 fillets anchovy, chopped

1 bunch basil, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 fillets Arctic char, 4 oz each


1) Toss tomatoes with a little salt in a bowl.

2)  Remove two thin slices of lemon.  Cut into small wedges that include the rind.  Squeeze the rest of the juice from the lemon over tomatoes.

3)  Add lemon wedges, capers, garlic, anchovies, basil and half cup of the oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set tomato sauce aside.

4)  Score the fish skin to prevent curling, then season with salt and pepper.  Heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat.  Add fish skin side down and sear for 3 minutes or until skin is crisp.  Flip over fish and cook for about 3 minutes until just opaque in the centre.

5)  Place the tomato sauce in a clean frying pan on medium heat and cook until warm.

6)  To serve, place a fillet of Arctic char on each warmed plate, top with sauce and serve with pasta or rice.



Cool Comfort


Now don’t turn up your nose and go “ugh”.  I know that the last thing you ever want out of the deli case is that ubiquitous, fake mayonnaisey pasta salad with odd little bits of celery and onion suspended in a sticky white glop, along with mushy bits of elbow macaroni.

I completely understand.

But it is summer, at last, and I also believe that a chilled pasta salad should be one of your classic “go-to” meals in the hot weather.  After all is said and done, pasta salads are easy to make, portable, great for picnics, barbecues, potlucks and Friday night suppers when you’re feeling just too torpid to turn on the stove.

The problems with most un-appetizing pasta salads can be summed up with the characterizations of “blandness”, “overcooked pasta” or “heavy sauces that mask the flavour of the vegetables.”  But pasta salads really don’t have to be mediocre; as with most good cooking, you should start with a respect for your materials.  That is, remember that this is a PASTA salad and think clearly about the actual carbs that form the basis.  There are so many types of pasta available that the sky’s the limit, although I would watch out for certain types of tortellini which really are meant to be served hot.  Dried pasta works better than fresh pasta, by the way, the fresh pasta being so fragile that it can become mushy in an instant.

Anyway, you probably know the rules: make sure you abide by them.  For instance, use enough rapidly boiling water — a gallon for a 16 oz package of pasta.  And for chilled pasta — I would add even more salt to the water than usual — 2 tablespoons, at least, to a pound of pasta.  Cook the pasta until it is al dente — but not so stiff as to become hardened when chilled.  (There is no way to tell al dente, as far as I’m concerned, beyond trying out little pieces of the pasta while it’s cooking.)  And a hint from Bon Appetit, which I found really helpful.  Don’t rinse the cooked pasta under cold water.  Instead, toss it quickly with the best olive oil that you can afford and spread the pasta out on in a single layer on a baking sheet or a flat surface, to cool completely.  This seems to keep it separated and stops it from getting stiff and doughy later on in the refrigerator.  And don’t ever use butter on it, because, as you know, when cooled, the butter will congeal.

What you need to add to your perfect pasta is up to you.  Some kind of sauce or dressing to bind the flavours together, a few fresh vegetables (need I say local and at the peak of their flavour) and some herbs or spices to give it a bit of pizzazz.  I also like to add something salty or crunchy — maybe pine nuts or radishes or capers or feta or olives.  Mayonnaise is the classic sauce, used on salads that won’t be sitting around at room temperature for a long time and fine, if spiced up with something so that it’s not boring.  Always use more salt than you think you will need — and sea salt or Maldon salt gives a bit of texture.  And there seem to be a lot of instructions by chefs about blanching the vegetables briefly, instead of just chopping them up and throwing them in.  Again, use your own best judgment — blanching broccoli florets, for example, seems sensible to me — but I don’t want to be cooking fresh tomatoes (although roasted tomatoes have a fine flavour.) Do try to exercise some restraint.  The pasta and three other flavours are about all you need in one dish — any more and everything becomes a blur.

Here are a couple of my favorite pasta salads.  Don’t know where the recipes came from, have happily used them for years.

Spaghetti and Tomato Salad with Dill Yogurt Dressing

Elaine’s recipe



1/2 lb spaghetti

1 1/2 cucumbers

1 large garlic clove

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup well shaken buttermilk

1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs, chopped

1/4 lb vine-ripened cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup Kalamata olives


1)  In a 6 quart kettle bring 4 quarts of water to boil for spaghetti.

2)  Peel and seed cucumber and shred on large holes of grater.  Squeeze shredded cucumber in a kitchen towel to remove excess liquid.  Seed and dice remaining half cucumber.

3)  Chop garlic and mash to a paste with salt.

4)  In a large bowl stir together shredded and diced cucumber, garlic paste, yogurt, buttermilk, all but 1 tbsp dill and salt and pepper to taste.

5)  Halve or quarter tomatoes and cut olives into thin slices.  Stir together tomatoes, olives and remaining tablespoon dill and season with salt and pepper.

6)  Cook spaghetti until al dente and drain in a colander.  Cool on a baking sheet (see above article).

7)  Add spaghetti to yogurt mixture and toss to coat.

8)  Serve spaghetti with tomato mixture.  Serves four.


Tuna Pasta Salad

Elaine’s very old, very easy, very good recipe


3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tbsp fresh lemon juicepastatuna

1 lb penne rigate, freshly cooked to tender,

1 tbsp finely grated fresh lemon zest

1 6 oz can tuna packed in oil (use the Italian tuna!)

1 15 oz can white beans, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil


1)  Whisk together mayonnaise and lemon juice in a large bowl.

2)  Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6 as a main course with a green salad — a great simple supper.

Robin and the Girls

chickens 040

I’m intrigued by stories of people who are determined to follow their dreams.  Robin Neilson, for instance, grew up in the comfortable but non-descript suburbs of north Burlington.  She went to George Brown College where she earned her chef’s papers and worked in many kitchens. (The most recent, a six year stint as a dessert and line cook at the Burlington Golf and Country Club.)  She is an extraordinarily hard worker.  But, in her own words, the most unusual thing about her is “I have always just loved chickens.”

Robin now lives in a modest, but charming farmhouse north of Dundas Street, set off from the busy highway by a long gravel driveway and a screen of trees.  She and her husband bought the farm four years ago because they wanted to work on the land and get back to nature.  And boy, did they work.

The house, she says, was derelict; no siding, broken windows.  It had been inhabited by transient druggies who had decorated the walls with magic marker and many, many foul-tempered raccoons who lived in the upper storey.

“I worked 50 hours a week,” she recalls, “putting in a lawn, making a garden, installing windows.  I did all of the baseboards in the house myself with my dad.  I got a tractor to make a garden, tearing up the soil to grow vegetables.  And then, I remembered that I my aim had been to spend more time with my kids.  So I said, “Good day!” to my cooking job and am concentrating on getting this going right now.”

The house has been beautifully renovated with wide windows letting in lots of  light, gleaming hardwood floors, prints on the walls and, yes, the baseboards do look great. But Neilson’s real pride is the wire-walled chicken pen in the backyard.  Inside the pen (“My husband is planning to build a better coop …”) are 28  hens that Neilson calls “the girls.”  She introduced me to the girls and I learned an awful lot of chicken lore:

For instance:  Did you know that egg laying hens are different from hens that you use for meat?  Robinchickens 041 has many different varieties of egg layers — Columbian Rock X, New Hamp X, Red X, Rhode Island Red and Leghorn. (Chickens have funny names!)  She shows me the eggs that she had just gathered that morning and I noticed that they had  icky black specks on them.

“Oh, yeah, ” she laughs, “they’re still kind of poopy.  The first thing that I found out was that no one wants the eggs until  they have been very carefully washed.”

And, did you know, that roosters are not necessary, for chickens to lay eggs.  I was astonished by this fact (sorry, I’m a city girl).

Robin says, “Oh, they just lay eggs every day by themselves.  I decided that I didn’t want to have a rooster in here because the rooster gets very territorial and protective and makes it difficult for anyone to come in and pet the chickens or take the eggs.  Besides, I didn’t want to wake up at dawn every morning to his crowing.”

The chickens themselves develop their own personalities and form a hierarchical social structure in the coop.  The brown ones are “nice little pets”.  According to Robin they are very reliable, laying an egg every day.  “The whites ones,” she says, “are more finicky and flighty.”

chickens 038

Chickens love to eat bananas and watermelon in addition to their feed. (At one point, Robin left me alone with the creatures while she went to get a banana. They all rushed over to me, chuffing and clucking and churring, gazing at me expectantly with their bright little eyes, obviously wondering why this silly person wasn’t offering them anything.)

That Robin has a real affinity for the birds is very apparent.  Worried that chickens 044they might get cold when they were moulting, she started knitting little sweaters for them.  (The girls were not interested in fashion, however, and kept ripping the overcoats off.)

The chickens live for about four years but do not lay eggs for that long. Robin did one “kill” a few years ago and decided that she would never do another.

“It was terrible,” she says, “and there was really no point.  These chickens are different than meat birds, they just get stringy and boney when they get old. I decided that I’d just keep them as pets.”

She is not really worried about selling the eggs since she has more customers than she has product at the moment.   She has investigated getting a market stall (“so many rules and regulations”) and is thinking about an “honour system” stand at the end of her driveway.  She may get some ducks too, in the future (“Wouldn’t it be great to put in a little duck pond?”)  The farm will be getting a name (R and R Farms) and market gardening is the plan.  Currently, she has a greenhouse with 50 plum tomato plants growing in it.

“I’m hoping,” she says, “to be able to sell my products at someplace like The Mustard Seed Co-op.”

I’ll be watching her career with interest.

And here’s a recipe that makes use of fresh eggs for one of my favorite simple suppers.

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Omelettes

adapted from the Canadian Living website


8 eggs

4 tsp (18 mL) butter


1 bunch (1 lb) asparagus

1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil

3 green onions, sliced

1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh tarragon

4 oz (113g) goat cheese crumbled


1) Snap off woody ends of asparagus.  In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook asparagus and green onions, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes.

2)  Stir in tarragon, cook for 1 minute, transfer to bowl.

3)  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, salt, pepper and 2 tbsp (25 mL) water until just blended but not frothy.

4)  In 8 inch non-stick skillet melt 1 tsp of the butter over medium heat.  Add one quarter of the egg mixture, cook until almost set, gently lifting edge with spatula to allow uncooked eggs to flow underneath, about 3 minutes.

5)  Place one quarter of the vegetable mixture on half of the omelette, sprinkle with one quarter of the cheese.  Fold in half, cook for 1 minute. Slide onto plate.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Makes four omelettes.


Food and Fantasy


Once the sun goes down, it is very, very dark behind Dundurn Castle.  I know this because I visited the Castle last Friday night to enjoy a very special event — a “pop-up” dinner called “The Grand Feast.”

The feast took place in a tent set up on the lawn on the bay side of the castle and — as it happens — during the evening it became necessary to brave the lightless expanse outside to make use of the facilities inside the building.  It was a rather haunting but very charming experience to wander through the shadowy castle in the semi-darkness with only a few guides about —  a completely different ambiance from the usual guided tour.  And as I returned to the outside, into the blackness, I stopped to gaze in astonishment at the brightly lit tent.  It was brilliantly illuminated from the inside and one could look through the transparent panels on the sides to see the guests talking and laughing and, of course, eating and drinking.   More than anything, the tent resembled an elegant cruise ship, sailing along through the night, filled with happy tourists.

The vision of the tent, floating through the darkness, made me realize the potential and the sheer specialness of the “pop-up” experience.  It’s a concept that combines good eating and good company with a sort of paradigm shift.  Like travelling to a new country, you see the usual through new eyes.  The pop-up dining experience, which owes its conception and execution to Hamilton’s Dave Hanley, has been a source of delight now for a couple of years and continues to grow in popularity.  It is an experiment in entertainment that creates the feeling that guests are taking part in some sort of fantastic performance art piece.

dundurnvglogoThis is not to discount the importance of the actual dining.  At “the Grand Feast”, for instance, the evening was designed to showcase VG Meats.  The VG in VG meats stands for Van Groningen, the name of the family that owns and manages the company.  Maegan Baird, Marketing and Communications Manager, explained that the family- owned business was started after the Second World War by the grandfather who immigrated to Norfolk County from the Netherlands where he had learned butchery skills.  The business has grown ( and is now run by the four grandsons.


The Van Groningen boys

The meat is all sourced from small herds from local farms.  It is Angus beef from cattle born and raised in Ontario and the company is involved in every process, including animal breeding and genetics.  There are no added hormones to the beef and the animals are not fed antibiotics.  Everything is done with meticulous attention to detail.  Maegan told me, for instance, that each piece of meat is given a tracking number so that the place where the animal was raised, its age and what it was fed are fully traceable.  It is even given a “tenderness” rating that can be accessed with an app’ called Meat Mentor. The company sells its meat from its website, but also has a full service butchery in Stoney Creek.  They are hoping to integrate fully into the Hamilton market and currently the meat is available at Longo’s grocery stores.

At the feast, the meat was treated with the respect which it deserves — five courses by four chefs.  A delicate terrine and piquant dessert by VG Meats own Chef Greg Noonan; fall-off-the bone, braised short ribs by Chef Mark Farrugia from La Piazza Allegra; incredibly tasty flat iron steak prepared by Chef Jonny Blonde of food truck fame; and a grilled “28 day” New York strip loin by Chef Paddy Townsend from Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington.

There are photographs of the courses on Maegan Baird’s blog


if you wish to tantalize yourself with desire.  I’m not really sure which course deserved highest marks, I think the chefs were all showing off and presenting their finest.  But by the time they placed the strip loin in front of me, I had decided that I wasn’t going to eat it because I was feeling very full.  I took one bite — cutting through the meat which was like slicing through butter with my fork — and then, I ate the whole thing.  I later found out that this was the same beef that had been featured on this summer’s  LCBO Food and Drink magazine (page 74).  I should also mention that the food was very neatly paired with craft beer from Nickel Brook Brewing Company and wine from Rosewood Estate Winery.

“The Grand Feast” was sold out and, if you missed out, the next Pop-up dining experience will be announced on the website in mid-May.  I will leave you with the recipe for the Van Groningen’s perfect grilling steak.


The Boys’ Grilled Strip-Loin Steak

adapted from LCBO Food and Drink magazine, summer 2015 


2 bone-in strip loin steak, 2 inches thick

2 tsp coarsely ground sea salt or to taste

1 tbsp grape-seed oil


1)  Pat the steaks dry with paper towels.  Season both sides of the steak with salt and allow to sit unrefrigerated for 1 hour.

2)  Pat the steak dry again, rub with grape-seed oil to coat.

3)  Preheat one side of grill to high and the other side to low.  Sear steak on hot side of grill 3 to 4 minutes per side or until well-browned.  Transfer to the low heat side of the grill and continue to cook to desired doneness, about 10 to 15 minutes longer.  (Try to keep grill temperature around 350 F.)

4)  Remove from grill and rest the steak for about 7 minutes before slicing.


Maegan Baird, VG Meats

A Passage to the Punjab



Narula_default_logoI love to eat in Indian restaurants, but I seldom attempt to cook Indian food.  It seems like such an incredibly complex cuisine, with all of the spices to source and buy and then there is the tandoori oven, the long slow cooking and the widely varied regional aspects — well, I am quite content to have someone else do the preparation and serving while I just sit back, eat and enjoy.  That’s why I’m so happy to discover another good Indian place in Hamilton and to welcome Narula’s Indian Restaurant to our Monday night Go Cooking session.

Navdeep Narula is the chef and owner of Narula’s.  Navdeep and his wife Amandeep moved to Canada from the Punjab and Delhi in 2004, enticed by the growing market in Canada.  Their first restaurant was in Mississauga, but seeing a greater opportunity open up, they moved to Hamilton last year.

“Cooking was always a passion in my family,”  says Navdeep.  “My grandfather and my father were both excellent cooks and did all of the cooking in the home.  I feel as if cooking is in my genes — everyone I served at home would say, ‘Why don’t you open up a restaurant?'”


Amandeep and Navdeep Narula. Photo Gary Yokoyama, Hamilton Spectator

Their Hamilton location has been open on Barton Street East, across from the old Centre mall, since last year.  The restaurant is housed in the former Olympia restaurant and it is huge.  The cavernous space on the main floor seats 150 and upstairs is a banquet hall that seats 350. (When I saw photographs of it I couldn’t help but imagine a sort of fantasy Bollywood movie set with lots of music and singing and dancing and colorful silks and saris  — okay, I know I go to too many films.)

Navdeep describes the food as northern Indian, a complex combination Punjabi and Mughal traditions. The Punjab is in the north of India alongside of the border with Pakistan.  Punjabi cuisine is probably what we think of as most typical of Indian food — intense colours, flavours and aromas.  It has a rich tradition of tandoori cooking, but also incorporates Mughal traditions, a style of cooking developed in South Asia by the imperial kitchens of the Muslim Mughal Empire.  It combines the cooking styles used in North India, Pakistan and the Indian city of Hyderabad and is strongly influenced by Central Asian cuisine.


The chef says, “The restaurant serves northern Indian food that is not toned down.  We try to make it authentic and find that that’s what people really love.  They begin to understand that Indian food doesn’t have to be really spicy, although it can be.  It also can be milder but still have deep, full flavour.”

As a “for instance”, Chef Navdeep talks about his butter chicken that universally beloved Indian delight.

“It has to be cooked in the tandoor and, to be authentic, it shouldn’t be sweet.  We specialize in so many tandoori items — for instance, a kebab platter that has four different items.  This is really flavorful — the fragrance draws you to the table.”

I should mention that the Spectator’s Amy Kenny did review the restaurant (August, 2014) and one thing that Kenny notes is that Narula’s also has some non-standard options in addition to curries and tandoori.  The menu includes an aloo tiki burger, butter chicken fries (!!) and a lamb masala wrap.  Her summary?  “Good service, good food, reasonable prices.”

For our Go Cooking session on Monday night, I was somewhat perplexed by the menu which has several items on it that were unfamiliar to me.  Chef Navdeep was kind enough to help me out.

The chicken tikka masala, for instance, is really butter chicken with added onions, coriander and a rich gravy sauce.

Lahori cholay is made with chickpeas cooked in the style of Lahore.  The chef says don’t  expect the canned chickpeas that we buy at the grocery store.  These are real dried chickpeas which have been soaked for 24 hours and cooked for a couple of hours with onions, ginger and a variety of spices.

Jeera rice is rice flavored with cumin and garam masala.

And the dessert — ras malai — is made from milk which is cooked for six or seven hours.  A few spoonfuls of sugar are added and the result is a sort of very rich cheese dumpling.

Chef Navdeep says that he will talk about how these items can be made by the home cook.  The ras malai, for instance, can be made with condensed milk with added cream.  And if you don’t have a tandoori (clay oven) in your kitchen, here’s a recipe for the chicken tikka masala that you can improvise at home.


cooking in the tandoor – a clay pot


Chicken Tikka Masala

from Chef Navdeep Narula, Narula’s Indian Cuisine


1  1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighsnarulatikkamasala

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

For the sauce:

1/2 tbsp ghee, butter or olive oil

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, diced

1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 – 2 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp paprika

1 cup diced tomatoes

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup roughly chopped coriander


1) Trim the chicken thighs of any large pieces of fat and lay them in a shallow dish.

2)  Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, cumin and coriander.  Pour the yogurt mixture over the thighs and stir to fully coat each piece.  Chicken can be used immediately or marinated in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours.  Chicken will become more tender and flavorful the longer it marinates.

3)  Cook in a clay oven.  If not available, line a baking sheet with foil and set a wire cooling rack over the baking sheet.  Turn on the oven broiler to high with a rack positioned 6 inches below the broiling element.

4)  Remove the thighs from the yogurt and shake off any extra marinade.  Lay the thighs, spaced an inch or so apart, on the wire rack over the baking sheet.  Transfer to the oven and broil for 6 minutes.  Flip the thighs and broil for another 6 minutes.  Check that the thighs are cooked through and register at least 165 degrees F on an instant- read thermometer.  Broil in additional 2 minute intervals, if necessary, until the thighs are cooked.  Remove the thighs from the oven and set aside to cool.

5)  Warm a half tbsp of ghee, butter or oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in the tomato paste, 1 tbsp of the garam masala, and paprika and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

6)  Pour in the tomatoes and their juices and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile dice the cooled chicken into bite-sized pieces.

7)  Stir the cream and chopped chicken into the sauce and simmer until the chicken is warmed through and the sauce is just starting to bubble, 1 – 2 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Depending on the potency of your masala spice mix, you may want to add up to another tbsp of spice.  Stir in the cilantro just before removing the sauce from heat.

8)  Serve immediately.  Top each serving with another sprinkle of cilantro.

My Notes:

This looks long and complicated but each step is quite straightforward.  What a great dish to have ready after a night out watching “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Or, you could just visit the restaurant!


Feasting for Philanthropy


Fine dining and hospitals may seem to be in categories that are widely divergent. Nevertheless, an event which combines the two is taking place this month (until March 19th).  Called “The Feast for St. Joseph’s”,  the “Feast” allows Hamilton restaurant patrons a chance to enjoy a delectable dinner at one of several local restaurants knowing that 10% of their bill will be going to benefit our very own St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

This is the second year running for this singular Hamilton promotion which has been very well received. The idea was the brainchild of the St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation’s Director of Special Events who had noticed the popularity of events such as “A Taste of Burlington”.  It seems that in Hamilton, as in Burlington, this period of frigid weather is a slow time of year and several restaurants responded with alacrity to an idea that would encourage some brisk business.  And our local foodies were thrilled at the chance to “eat well” and, at the same time, “do good.”   The dozen restaurants involved are from all across the city — from Ancaster’s Old Mill, to downtown’s Lo Presti’s at Maxwell’s, to Stoney Creek’s Vicar’s Vice — well — a whole list of the participating restaurants can be found at the website at

Helping to support healthcare is a no-brainer because we know that sooner or later either we ourselves, our friends or someone in our family will need these services.  Carrie Trembinski, Director of Marketing and Communications for the St. Joseph’s Foundation says that equipment and research are the priorities for any monies raised and just a glance at the website’s list of needed equipment and the cost of these items is a chastening experience.  A few examples —

Blanket Warmers — cost $5000 each — to warm up blankets for newborn babies, a sick child or for someone recovering from treatment or surgery;

Ultra Sound Machine — cost $250,000 each — for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions;

IV Pumps – cost $7901 each — to ensure that patients receive correct fluids, medications or nutrients at all times.

And not only do we want all of this costly equipment available close to our own homes, but we also require on-going research so that cutting edge treatment remains a viable option. There are three areas of priority right now at St. Joe’s, in terms of research:

1)  Mental Health and Addiction Services:  St Joseph’s is currently the regional leader in psychiatric care and research. Phase 1 of the newly constructed West 5th campus opened in February, 2014, helping to support individuals and families coping with mental illness and addiction.  Phase 2 is in the works.

2)  Lung and Airway Diseases: St. Joseph’s provides treatment for rare and complex thoracic conditions including thoracic surgery, lung cancer, emphysema, COPD (chronic pulmonary disease, a long term incurable lung disease)) and CHF (congestive heart failure).

3)  Kidney and Urinary Tract Diseases:  St. Joseph’s is a centre of innovation in kidney care.  For instance, surgeons at St. Joseph’s Hospital have a long history of advances in the treatment and diagnosis of kidney stones.  In 1990, St. Joseph’s became the second hospital in Ontario to offer lithotripsy, a non-invasive way to break up stones in the kidney, ureter or bladder.  The service was the busiest in the world and today treats more than 1200 patients a year.  In 1993, St. Joseph’s urologists were the first to treat a human for kidney stones using a homium laser, a treatment now used around the world.  Currently, fund raising has begun for a new dialysis centre.

I offer these few examples because I know that sometimes there is a “disconnect” between philanthropy and its benefits.  But these services(and equipment) are not only close to our home, but close to the bone and to our hearts.  And here’s a way of helping by offering a small gift that’s not too expensive and having a great evening out, at the same time.

And since you probably don’t want to cook up an item from the hospital’s menu (we’ll save that discussion for a later date), here’s a recipe from one of the participating restaurants which just happens to be one of our Go Cooking favorites as well.

Braised Jack Daniels Back Ribs

from Chef Tim Doan, Lo Presti’s at Maxwell’s mar19backribs


rack of ribs

2 tbsp salt

bay leaves

1 tsp peppercorns

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup Jack Daniels

Granny Smith apples peeled and coredMar19jackdan

1/2 cup chopped onion

4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

2 cups ketchup

1/3 cup cider vinegar

3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly paked

3/4 cup molasses

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup tomato paste


1)  Place the ribs into a pot and completely submerge in water.

2)  Add 2 tbsp salt, bay leaves, peppercorns and white vinegar.

3)  bring to a boil and lower to a simmer.

4)  Cook for about 45 minutes or until tender.

5)  Remove the ribs from the pot and place into a braising pan.

6)  Remove 2 cups of the rib stock and set aside.

7)  Sauté onions, garlic and apples on medium heat until cooked.

8)  Add all remaining ingredients, bring to boil.

9)  Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.

10) Add more Jack Daniels if desired.

11) Add the rib stock to the sauce and mix.

12) Pour the sauce over the ribs, cover and braise in a 375 degree F oven for about another 1, to 1 and 1/2 hours, or until the meat is about to fall off the bone.

My Notes:

And don’t forget the up-coming road race after all of that fine restaurant food.


Food, wine and fun


“… I like to think about the life of wine …How it’s a living thing.  I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing;  how the sun was shining; if it rained … I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes.  And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now…” whiningsidewy

                                                                   Maya in “Sideways


One of my very favorite quotes from one of my very favorite films.


I could add, however, that one of the things I personally like to think about while sipping wine, is simply geography — where the wine comes from and its amazingly evocative flavour.  Drinking icy French chablis with oysters on the half shell, for instance, will to take me back to dark and chilly November nights in Paris;  a glass of spicy gewürtztraminer, and I’m lazing and gazing and grazing on a Rhine River cruise; and vino verde from Italy can transport me to summers in Siena where I spent my student days.

But enough nostalgia!  I’m so glad to see that we have a couple of wine-soaked evenings coming up at Go Cooking:  a tour of Spain, on January 28th; and an overview of our own Niagara wine region, slated for February 18th.  The earlier date is sold out right now, but I believe that there are still some seats available for the February evening.  Our wine tastings are called “Sips, Tips and Tidbits” and they feature Peter Kline, our funny and incredibly erudite sommelier, from Bacchus Sommelier Services.  Peter pairs up with a chef who will be creating hors d’oeuvres to accompany the various vintages.  Chef Carl Dahl, from Julia’s and Ritorno in Oakville, will be cooking for the Spanish evening; and Chef Ken LeFebour from Nellie James Gourmet Food to Go, for the evening that highlights wines from the Niagara peninsula.

I am actually old enough to remember when it was dreadfully un-chic to serve Ontario wines. (Anybody else recall Baby Duck?)  In fact, it’s almost a miracle that a cold climate country such as ours even has a wine industry, although I was surprised to discover that the Niagara peninsula actually lies on the same latitude as Bordeaux, France.  Still, the Niagara wine region came about as a sort of quirk of geography.  Apparently our Lake Ontario warms up during the summer and retains its heat.  In the winter, an offshore breeze sends the still warm air from the lake across the Niagara peninsula where it is stopped by the escarpment (Bump!), and bounces back toward the lake (Swoosh!), raising the temperature of the terrain beneath it.  This re-cycling process manages to preserve a sort of micro-climate on the Niagara peninsula that is suitable for growing wine grapes.

Grape growing, in fact, has been going on in this area for over 200 years but it began with an indigenous Lambrusca variety of grapes that made for a rather rough and rustic drink.  It is only since the 1970’s, when European vinifera grapes were imported and grown, that the modern wine industry was born. Some of the earliest wineries were Chateau des Charmes, Inniskillin, Cave Springs and Henry of Pelham and the first grape to win international renown was the riesling.  Since then, however, many varieties of grapes have been grown: chardonnays, pinot noirs, baco noirs, gamay grapes — well, you name it —  the industry has expanded swiftly and surely. In 1991 Inniskillin won a grand prize for icewine in Bordeaux, France and Canadian wines achieved international recognition.

Anyway, there are two major wine regions on the peninsula: the Niagara Escarpment and the Twenty Valley and the area around Niagara-on-the-Lake which is a few degrees warmer.  At our wine tasting we will be sampling wines from several wineries. Here are three of the most well-known:


Angels Gate winery was opened in 2002 and sits just below the forested escarpment with a view of Lake Ontario and rolling vineyards. It has a gorgeous mission style building which was designed to commemorate the Congregation of Christian Sisters who once owned the property. The Terrace restaurant is a popular lunch destination and several of the wines have won numerous awards. Peter has chosen a sparkling wine to sample from Angels Gate.


Tawse Winery lies right on the Niagara Escarpment with three barrel cellars carved into the rocky wall. The winery uses organic and biodynamic farming practices and has been named Canada’s winery of the year for three years in a row.  We will be trying out a riesling — the winery makes several types at different price points.


Henry of Pelham is a family estate, near St. Catharines, founded in 1988 by the Speck family. They create many kinds of wine. both reds and whites, as well as icewine, but are most well known for an iconic baco noir which we will be sampling.  The Spectator’s Dan Kislenko introduced me to baco noir, a hybrid French grape, many years ago and it was love at first sip. Wine writer Natalie Maclean notes, of the Pelham, 2014, baco noir, “A medium bodied red with attractive dark red berry and plum aromas.  Round and supple.  Henry of Pelham ups its game every year on baco.  This is terrific.”

The evening will be rounded off with two more surprising wine choices and, of course, each drink paired with Chef Ken LeFebour’s delightful “tidbits” which will, no doubt, be locally sourced.  I hope you can join us for this introduction to the high quality of our Niagara peninsula wines.

And here’s a recipe from Angels Gate that sounds divine.

Smoked Salmon Penne

from Angels Gate Winery, best served with Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 


penne, or your favourite shaped pastawhiningsmokedsalmon

1 cup room temperature cream cheese

1 bunch of fresh dill, chopped

4 green onions, sliced

1 lemon juiced and zested

1 heaping spoonful of Dijon mustard

1/4 cup capers

8 oz smoked salmon, or more

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1)  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook al dente, until pasta is cooked through but pleasantly chewy.  Scoop out 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.  Drain the pasta, but leave it a bit wet.

2)  Put the pasta back in the pot with 1/2 cup of reserved water and the rest of the ingredients.

3)  While still steaming hot, toss well to melt the cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.



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